Must-watch Asia-Pacific development issues in 2016

Residents of Maizaan Gaon ride their bicycles in India. What are some of the biggest development issues set to affect the Asia-Pacific region in 2016? Photo by: Asian Development Bank / CC BY

The past 12 months saw development and humanitarian actors pull together as never before to adopt international actions plans — from the Sendai disaster management framework in March, to the Sustainable Development Goals in September, and the Paris climate agreement in December — in an attempt to foster sustainable livelihoods and a more sustainable planet for future generations.

If 2015 can be considered a pivotal year that saw the launch of a raft of crosscutting, comprehensive agreements and frameworks, the next 12 months pose an arguably even bigger challenge, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region: implementing those agreements effectively to produce inclusive results.

Such implementation efforts come atop a number of other key development talking points in the region that warrant further attention and scrutiny in the coming year, including the rise of new multilateral institutions, the continued rise of economic players in the region, as well as perennial issues such as infrastructure, education, health, environmental protection and resilience.

What does the year 2016 have in store for the global development community in the Asia-Pacific region? Here are four issues to watch out for.

1. AIIB’s first projects and loans.

More than two years since Chinese President Xi Jinping’s speech in Bali, Indonesia, to announce plans to create the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank — aimed at bridging the region’s glaring infrastructure investment gap, estimated at $800 billion per year until 2020 — the end of 2015 finally saw the launch of formal operations.

The Beijing-based bank is set to approve its first batch of loans in the second quarter of 2016, with the total loan portfolio expected to reach between $1.5 billion and $2 billion in the next 12 months. This is expected to be the first of many projects and loans from the bank, whose annual loan portfolio is projected to increase almost tenfold in the next five to six years.

The launch of operations by the world’s newest multilateral institution presents opportunities on many different levels for Asia-Pacific development. First and foremost, the $100 billion capital of the bank will help immensely to meet the infrastructure needs of the region. The rise of AIIB, along with the BRICS’ New Development Bank, is also set to stir some competition — and, hopefully, more effectiveness and efficiency — among established multilaterals including the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.

The launch of the AIIB is also set to open up a significant amount of career opportunities for global development and finance professionals in the region.

The bank’s board of governors is expected to hold its inaugural meeting on Jan. 16-18 in the institution’s headquarters in Beijing, China, to set out objectives and operational matters for the years ahead.

2. Climate-proofing the region.

Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu and the recent floods in Myanmar are just a few examples of how vulnerable the Asia-Pacific region is to climate-related disasters. And the vulnerability doesn’t just cost billions (or perhaps even trillions) of dollars in damage, it puts people into a vicious cycle of poverty and recovery.

While the occurrence of typhoons and cyclones are an inevitable part of nature, especially in countries that can have upwards of 25 typhoons each year, preventing them from becoming disasters where they strike is a huge challenge facing the region. How can authorities and aid partners help to overcome that challenge? By climate-proofing development and economic programs.

The next 12 months presents an opportunity for countries to implement the provisions in the Paris climate change agreement adopted by almost 200 countries in December. This can be operationalized effectively through a concerted effort by all stakeholders, including government bodies (through policy), businesses (carbon taxes and fewer emissions), advocacy groups (knowledge sharing and awareness raising), multilateral institutions (financial and technical assistance), and the general public (reduced carbon footprint).

Finding themselves at the forefront of climate efforts, countries in the region cannot afford to ignore the potential of the Paris agreement. As David Reitzer, an economist at ADB, said Monday in a climate briefing attended by Devex: “It’s not about who should make the first move, but what can be done together.”

3. Implementing the SDGs.

The 17 goals and 169 targets of the Sustainable Development Goals, considered the world’s development blueprint for the next 15 years, face a stern test in the coming year. Indeed, they will remain only theoretical goals and targets if countries and other development stakeholders do not implement them.

Nowhere is the success of the SDGs more vital than Asia-Pacific — home of around two-thirds of the world’s poor that needs to be lifted out of poverty —  while education, health and sanitation all remain a brake on development progress.

While a handful of countries in the region continue to register stellar economic growth, there is a bigger dilemma that governments have to face: achieving inclusive development and continuing to strengthen economies, while protecting the environment through the use of cleaner energies. Using the SDGs as a framework can significantly help in facilitating this balancing act, but collaboration — in terms of resources and expertise — remains essential.

The next 12 months will serve as a springboard for nations to lay down foundations to achieve the global goals and targets towards a more sustainable future. It will be a long road ahead, but as the Chinese proverb says: “A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.”

4. Political and development realities.

The next 12 months will see a number of countries in the Asia-Pacific region holding general and legislative elections that could set the tone for what the domestic and regional development trajectory will look like in the years ahead.

Legislative elections will be held in regional powerhouses India (May-June), South Korea (April), and Japan (June or July), which could potentially have a sizeable impact on the wider region’s development progress and priorities. Other countries that will hold polls include the presidential and general elections in the Philippines (May), legislative elections in Mongolia (June), and general and council elections for Taiwan (January) and Hong Kong (September).

The outcomes of the elections could have a significant effect on the countries’ medium-term future, particularly on the stability and sustainability of development programs — and aid programs for donor countries like South Korea and Japan — as policies that allow civil society operations and development programs to be implemented, as witnessed in countries such as Russia and Cambodia in recent months, can be changed by those in power.

What are some of the biggest development issues set to affect the Asia-Pacific region in 2016? Have your say by leaving a comment below.

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About the author

  • Lean 2

    Lean Alfred Santos

    Lean Alfred Santos is a Devex development reporter focusing on the development community in Asia-Pacific, including major players such as the Asian Development Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. Prior to joining Devex, he covered Philippine and international business and economic news, sports and politics. Lean is based in Manila.