Sustainable Development in Asia and the Pacific Will Boost Long-Term Growth - Marvin Taylor-Dormond and Vinod Thomas

Op-Ed / Opinion | 1 May 2019

Economic growth policies in Asia and the Pacific have impacted the use and availability of natural resources contributing to environmental degradation. Yet these same policies led to high growth and a dramatic fall in poverty. Countries are trying to figure out how to keep growth strong but in a way that responsibly manages natural resources and takes better care of the environment. Making headway on this is vital because of climate change, which is already being acutely felt in Fiji and other Pacific island countries.

A way forward is to make greater use of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in economic planning.

A big concern is whether the progress being made in reducing poverty can be sustained—a further 780 million people in Asia and the Pacific moved out of extreme poverty from 2002 to 2013 alone, according to latest data. But this is under threat from the dire outlook on climate change from worsening environmental degradation.

And decades of underinvestment in natural capital is increasing the vulnerability of people whose well-being depends on the preservation of forests, coral reefs, and coastlines, areas of particular concern in Pacific island countries.

Continuing to aim just for the highest possible short-term growth is not viable—and governments have long recognized the need for more sustainable development. But they need the resources and continuity across administrations to see this through.A way forward is to make greater use of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in economic planning. The 17 SDGs aim to help countries move to environmentally sustainable and inclusive growth while they strive to increase their gross domestic products. Meeting the targets of the Paris climate change agreement adopted in 2015 would be a complementary way forward.

Private sector also has a key role to play both in promoting efficiency in the use of resources and mobilizing investments to augment the limited public sector funds available to achieve the SDGs. ADB, plans to increase its private sector operations so that they account for one-third of supported projects by 2024.  Hopefully, ADB’s demonstration role in catalyzing private sector capital for achieving a sustainable development path in the region will go a long way.  

But to convert these goals into actions a rethink is needed on how economic growth is measured and perceived other than solely in terms of physical output (in other words, the value of what an economy produces). To tackle the emerging development challenges facing the region, policymakers, and crucially policy advice, need to use measures of sustainable development.

The current system of ranking countries on the basis of short-term growth alone is scarcely an incentive for decision makers to prioritize resource management and environmental care. Targeting the SDGs could motivate national leaders to think beyond short-term growth and rally public support for action on sustainable development. Policymakers and economists need to be on board. The costs of neglecting climate action will be huge, and need to be factored into country growth forecasts.

Development institutions helped reduce poverty in Asia and the Pacific, and they have an important role in the next phase of the region’s development.

The failure to look beyond growth alone undermines the urgency for action. Pacific island countries already face an existential crisis caused by global warming—and the annual meeting of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) in Fiji on May 1–5 will help highlight how the economic costs of climate-related disasters are among the highest in the world in low-carbon-footprint Pacific island countries.

We hope the Pacific countries will use this opportunity to press this case. At the same time, projects to build resilience to the climate crisis in Fiji, Samoa, the Marshall Islands are providing valuable global learning lessons and showing that a better way is possible.

Development institutions helped reduce poverty in Asia and the Pacific, and they have an important role in the next phase of the region’s development. For ADB, which lent $22 billion for development in 2018, and other development banks this will mean significantly increasing the financing available to governments to support projects to tackle the new challenges. ADB’s plan to commit $80 billion to fight climate change from now until 2030 is particularly heartening.

In this newer terrain, governments are increasingly looking to their development partners for solutions to their development problems. ADB, with its long experience of working in the region, particularly in infrastructure, is well-placed to be a leading regional knowledge resource on interventions that build resilience to the new and existing threats to development. This include widening income gaps and the unfinished agenda of lifting 330 million people in the region out of extreme poverty.

Multilateral and bilateral development banks need to make a solid case with client governments that investing in projects that will advance sustainable development will, far from impeding growth, provide a strong support for lasting growth.

This appeared in the 1 May 2019 issue of the Fiji Times.