MANILA, PHILIPPINES —The launch of the Sustainable Development Goals later this month and the possibility of a global climate change deal by the end of the year will be two crucial pieces in the framework needed to drive continued economic success in Asia, says Independent Evaluation at the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

 “Viewed from multiple angles, sustainability emerges as the key principle underlying these momentous global efforts,” says Vinod Thomas, director general of Independent Evaluation at ADB. “Setting goals to be achieved in socially inclusive and environmentally sustainable growth will define success in keeping Asia’s socio-economic progress on track.”

Sustainability might be seen as meeting the needs of the present generation without endangering the ability of future generations to meet their needs. This idea was included in the Millennium Development Goals and is now front and center in the Sustainable Development Goals, set to be adopted at a United Nations summit in New York on September 25–26. 

For Asia, embracing better governance to build economies that are socially inclusive and environmentally sound will be vital for achieving sustainable development. Despite the region’s success in producing fast-growing economies, it continues to be plagued by poor public services, weak government institutions, and corruption that holds back countries from realizing their full potential.

Inequality is widening in the dozen countries that make up 80% of Asia’s population, which poses a threat to the very prospect of sustained growth. And although impressive strides were made in reducing poverty over the past decades, the region is still home to 544 million people living on less than $1.25 a person a day. Ending poverty in all its forms by 2030 tops the list of 17 proposed Sustainable Development Goals, and reducing inequality within and among countries is one the goals.

Growing evidence underscores a connection among atmospheric emissions, global warming and climate related natural disasters. Extreme typhoons and floods are exacting an ever larger human and economic toll in Asia and the Pacific. Climate change impacts are also projected to endanger food security and create new poverty pockets. In December, potentially turning-point talks for a climate accord will be held at United Nations summit of nearly 200 countries in Paris. 

It is going to be harder for Asia to sustain strong growth unless the worst effects of climate change are averted, and income disparities and unequal access to basic services are narrowed. An underlying threat to the region’s growth prospects is the stagnating productivity of investments. Much of Asia’s past growth has been driven by the sheer scale of investments. This pattern of growth will likely be less prominent in the future, with improvements in productivity having to take up more of the reins of growth. Productivity—getting more from available resources—will need to become a far bigger driver of growth. 

Says Thomas: “More financing for development remains essential, even as private flows and new official sources can be identified. Equally vital are decisive shifts in how financing is used to confront runaway climate change, environmental degradation, and rising inequality, all of which threaten the sustainability of progress in the region,” says Thomas.

To highlight these challenges and point out to opportunities, Independent Evaluation is hosting a two-day conference on the theme of sustainable development. The theme will be explored from four angles: macroeconomic and fiscal sustainability, environment and climate change, institution and governance, and project and investment sustainability.

The event, Think Sustainable, Act Responsible, will be hosted at ADB’s headquarters in Manila on September 15 and 16. 

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The event will be live streamed and live tweeted. Join the conversation #ThinkSustainable. Visit for details. 

About Independent Evaluation at the Asian Development Bank 
Asian Development Bank's Independent Evaluation, reporting to the Board of Directors through the Development Effectiveness Committee, contributes to development effectiveness by providing feedback on ADB's policies, strategies, operations, and special concerns in Asia and the Pacific.
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Hans van Rijn
Independent Evaluation Department
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