The UN Development Programme (UNDP) marked its 50th anniversary on 24 February with an eye to expanding its reach in the Asia-Pacific and helping the region effectively localise the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
“One thing we want to do in 2016 is work with all the governments in Asia and the Pacific,” Nicholas Rosellini, deputy regional director for Asia and the Pacific at UNDP, tells SciDev.Net. “In the future you’ll see much more joined up approaches to development.”
Here are some of the main challenges Rosellini anticipates.
Vulnerability to climate change
The Asia-Pacific region suffers from some of the highest rates of natural disasters in the world. According to the 2016 Global Climate Risk Index, compiled by the German environmental nonprofit Germanwatch, Myanmar, Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand are among the top 10 countries globally most affected by climate change over the past 10 years.
“We need to help countries cope with natural disasters, to be prepared for them and to mitigate and reduce their impact,” says Rosellini.
The UNDP already has a wide range of programmes focused on climate change in the region. For example, it has helped the Cambodian government access support from the Global Environment Facility Small Grants Programme to help preserve the country’s forests and expand rural electrification and transmission.
“UNDP’s presence and support is particularly important for Cambodia right now when the country is embracing a new phase of environment governance reform to improve environment protection and natural resource management,” Tin Ponlok, secretary general of Cambodia's National Council for Sustainable Development, tells SciDev.Net.
The UNDP is also working with various Pacific small island developing states (SIDS) to ensure their budget system integrates climate risk reduction into their development plan. In some Pacific SIDS, this means ensuring that schools are built to withstand cyclones and hurricanes so that they can be used as refuge when people need shelter.
But as scientific studies predict climate change to only get worse, the UNDP will need to ramp up efforts to help the region’s many climate vulnerable countries adapt to flooding, biodiversity loss and poor harvests.
Several South-East Asian countries have seen strong economic growth over the past few years but the region is still struggling to translate that growth into decent jobs for the poor. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, growth in the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations was projected to average 4.6 per cent in 2015 and increase to 5.2 per cent in 2016-2020, led by the Philippines and Vietnam. 
But for the wider Asia-Pacific region, employment in developing economies only increased by 21.3 million (or 1.2 per cent) in 2014, a slight deceleration from trends in 2013, according to the 2015 survey by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific. 
High quality employment, which is productive and well compensated, is vital for raising living standards, especially for workers at the bottom of the income ladder. Yet job quality and growth varied across the region due to differences in economic and demographic trends, notes the report.
One of the main challenges to achieving inclusive and sustainable development in the Asia-Pacific is concerning the widespread use of vulnerable employment which include unpaid family workers and self-employed people.
“Workers in vulnerable employment are less likely to have decent earnings, formal work arrangements and access to social protection, which are all critical components for boosting living standards,” says the report.
Over 978 million people or over 54.7 per cent of the total number employed in 2014 were engaged in vulnerable work.
Holistic approach to SDGs
Since the SDGs were adopted last year, it has received much criticism for being unrealistic.
Ted Alwin Ong, vice chair of the local NGO Iloilo Caucus of Development Non-Government Organization, says “The SDGs are overly ambitious, especially since the MDGs fell short of attaining targeted goals. The UNDP needs to increase its campaign to popularise the SDGs at the local level. A lot of people are not aware of the MDGs more so on the SDGs.”
Rosellini acknowledges this. The highly interdependent goals mean that issues tied to urbanisation and climate-resilient cities requires also looking at urban poverty, climate vulnerability, and the ways
local governments are organised and regulate the cities. That’s why he plans on drawing support and expertise from people both within and outside of UN.
“We need to work together in a much more integrated fashion than we have done in the past,” says Rosellini. “The achievement of the goals will require a much more holistic approach to development.”
One way the UNDP plans to do that is to frame each country’s unique developmental challenges in terms of sustainability, whether it be economic, social or environmental. For instance, in Indonesia, renewable energy is important but certain types of renewables, such as wind, are a high-risk investment. The UNDP is working with the national government to come up with ways to minimise that risk and develop a strong renewable energy market that will attract more private investors.
When the Millennium Declaration was signed in September 2000, it took several years before its aspirations embodied in the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) were localised at the country level into national plans and budgets.
Rosellini says that this time, the UNDP wants to help countries in the Asia-Pacific region “start early” with the SDGs, which comprise 17 goals and 169 targets that build upon the MDGs.
“We have to do a lot of work at the subnational level and at the local level to make sure that we see more balanced development,” he stresses.
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s South-East Asia & Pacific desk.
 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development Economic Outlook for Southeast Asia, China and India 2016 (OECD, 22 January 2016)  UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific Economic and Social Survey of Asia and the Pacific 2015 – Part I (UNESCAP, 14 May 2015)