Economic and Social Survey of Asia and the Pacific 2020: Towards sustainable economies

Flagship8 Apr 2020

Decades of high economic growth in the Asia-Pacific region have transformed its socioeconomic landscape – lifting a billion people out of extreme poverty in the past two decades and raising living standards of even greater numbers. However, such growth has been accompanied by growing inequality of income and opportunity and is beginning to breach planetary limits, thus endangering the well-being of future generations. Yet, the Asia-Pacific region is not on track to achieve any of the 17 Goals by 2030 if we continue on our business-as-usual pathway. The largest regression is in Goal 12: Ensuring sustainable consumption and production patterns. This situation calls for a rethink of the economic growth-centric development model.

The 2020 Survey proposes a transition towards cleaner production and less material-intensive lifestyles supported by enabling policies. It further calls for all stakeholders, notably Governments, businesses and consumers, to urgently align their own goals actions with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It identifies the constraints that different stakeholders face and provides a holistic policy package to power through the challenges.

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Chapter I: Towards a sustainable economy

(Read Chapter I)

Chapter 1This chapter highlights why it is important to rethink that the economic growth-centric approach to development is inadequate at this time of climate emergency. The economic prosperity has lifted 1 billion people out of extreme poverty (mostly in China and India) in the past two decades but this has resulted at massive social and environmental costs. Income inequality has increased, and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and pollution has worsened in the region.

Building on the message to the region contained in the Survey 2019 to raise our “ambitions beyond growth”, the 2020 Survey calls for concerted policymaking to put people and the planet first. Tackling the unsustainability of current consumption and production patterns (Sustainable Development Goal 12) is a fundamental requirement for addressing the environmental consequences of the growth-centric approach.

Chapter II: Assessment of economic conditions of Asia and the Pacific

(Read Chapter II)

Chapter 2Achieving human well-being within planetary boundaries would require considerable changes in economic policies. However, the current challenging economic conditions add considerable headwinds to an already difficult path towards sustainable development. Amid an uncertain global environment, a continuation of slowing economic growth in the developing countries and territories in the Asia-Pacific region, fuelled by weak trade and investment activities, threatens to set back the progress already achieved towards sustainable development. Challenges include persistent inequality, stagnant income growth, and not generating decent jobs.

This chapter assesses current economic conditions and the near-term outlook. It highlights the novel coronavirus and unresolved trade tensions as the immediate risks to the outlook, and discusses policy options to mitigate and minimize the adverse impacts.

Chapter III: Building a sustainable future: understanding the reasons for slow progress

(Read Chapter III)

Chapter 3The region is already off track in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals as previously discussed in Chapter I. Traditional macroeconomic policies to boost GDP growth in the short run are not enough to address long-term development challenges. Chapter I already underlined the urgency of transforming the region’s consumption and production patterns to live in harmony with Nature and chapter III further highlights this urgency and argues that business as usual will not lead to a sustainable future.

Chapter III then examines why progress has been slow despite this urgency and identifies specific challenges facing different stakeholders – Governments, businesses and consumers – in shifting towards an environmentally sustainable development path.

Chapter IV: Building a sustainable future: a discussion of policies needed

(Read Chapter IV)

Chapter 4The climate emergency calls for countries in the region to significantly adjust their current production and consumption patterns and introduce policies that can facilitate the transition towards a low-carbon economy. This would involve adjustments in the behaviour of all stakeholders – Governments, businesses and consumers – supported by an enabling policy environment provided by the Government.

The policies needed to address the challenges towards future sustainable development are suggested and discussed in this chapter.

Chapter V: Bringing sustainability into consumption and production patterns

(Read Chapter V)

Chapter 5Chapter 5The final chapter highlights that doing business as usual will not do to achieve sustainable economic growth in the region. It also posits that the region needs to raise the level of ambitions beyond economic growth and make the next phase of it's economic transformation more sustainable. Further, the chapter emphasizes that the reduction of consumption and production footprints on the planet is a responsibility shared by everyone.


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Policy Dialogues

To disseminate the Survey2020 after its launch last 8 April, policy dialogues were organized by MPFD in collaboration with ESCAP subregional offices (SRO) and partners/think tanks in the region.

  1. Policy Dialogue on Survey 2020 – Lessons for Pakistan; Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), Islamabad, Pakistan, 29 April [Presentation]
  2. World Bank Group Policy Dialogue on Thailand, Philippines and Malaysia; 8 May [Presentation]
  3. Sustainable Economies in the aftermath of COVID-19: A virtual Policy Dialogue on Survey 2020; Subregional Office for SSWA, New Delhi, India, 13 May [Presentation]
  4. Sustainable Economies in the aftermath of COVID-19: A virtual Policy Dialogue on Survey 2020; Subregional Office for NCA (SONCA), Almaty, Kazakhstan, 27 May [Presentation]
  5. East and North-East Asia Policy Dialogue on Survey 2020; Subregional Office for ENEA, Incheon, Republic of Korea, 28 May [Presentation]
  6. Webinar on Promoting Sustainable Economies and Better Public Health, Philippine Institute for Development Studies, 4 June [Presentation]
  7. Brown bag session on "Aligning Post-COVID19 Recovery Towards Sustainable Economies: Recommendations for the Philippines and South East Asian Countries", Philippine Climate Change Commission-Foreign Assisted Program Management Systems (CCC FAPMS), 9 June. [Presentation]
  8. ERIA – UNESCAP Joint Virtual Policy Dialogue: Survey 2020, Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA), 10 June [Presentation]