Sustainability and Spring at the ADB Annual Meeting

Participants of the 49th ADB Annual Meeting join the tree-planting ceremony at the campus of the Goethe University in Frankfurt.
Participants of the 49th ADB Annual Meeting join the tree-planting ceremony at the campus of the Goethe University in Frankfurt.

By Satinder Bindra

The fruits of Asia's economic growth need to be shared equally, and must be sustained over the longer term. We simply cannot afford to be complacent.

It’s spring here in Germany and there’s a spring in my step as I head to Messe Frankfurt, the venue for ADB’s 49th Annual Meeting. This year’s theme is Cooperating for Sustainability, and it’s very clear that this is already happening.

Just yesterday, ADB’s President and several delegates from our 67 member states—including Germany—helped the Lord Mayor of Frankfurt and Goethe University leaders plant saplings that will grow over time into trees whose canopy will form an outdoor reading and lecture area for university students from all over the world.

For the ADB Annual Meeting, starting officially tomorrow, we have over 3,000 delegates coming from across Asia and the Pacific and other reaches of the world. They will bring with them different perspectives on how Asia and the Pacific can move forward to ensure long-lasting development. We not only have the ADB Governors here, but also many leading government officials, private sector representatives, civil society participants, academics, and over 300 journalists.

Sustainability is, of course, related to keeping the natural environment on an even keel and over the next few days we will be talking about issues ranging from the new Sustainable Development Goals to climate change and clean energy. But sustainability is also about social, economic, and financial balance, so seminars at the ADB Annual Meeting will address issues like generating quality jobs to ensure individuals and economies can maximize their potential, strengthening trade links between Europe and Asia, and creating cities that are livable, green, and support economic growth.

To be sure, Frankfurt has much to illustrate in all these areas; it is both a booming European financial powerhouse—central to a strong German economy—and, as I can testify, a clean, green city that is a pleasure to be in. Just last year, Frankfurt was named the most sustainable city in the world. The city is showcasing some of its achievements at the ADB Annual Meeting here, including setting up a Sustainable City with stalls that exhibit ideas by the public and private sectors on a wide spectrum of areas ranging from smart grids, renewable energy, and recycling, to food security, microfinance, and fair trade.

This is the first time ADB has held its Annual Meeting in Germany but the country is a significant partner. As of the end of 2015, Germany has contributed $6.37 billion in capital subscription and committed $1.94 billion to ADB’s special funds like the Asian Development Fund, which provides grants to the poorest and most debt-distressed countries in Asia and the Pacific. Its financing and co-financing has helped provide support to banks in places like Armenia, India, and Tajikistan. German resources have also helped set up a water project in the People’s Republic of China, wind farms in Thailand, and infrastructure projects in Indonesia.

For all its recent progress, though, the Asia and Pacific region still has a lot to do if it wants to ensure economic and social sustainability. Even as Europe struggles to recover from the aftermath of the recent global economic crisis, there is no poverty on the scale that still exists in Asia and the Pacific. In ADB’s home region, 450 million people still live in extreme poverty and around 1.3 billion are considered vulnerable to sudden shocks like natural disasters or other unexpected events that could easily tip them back below the poverty line.

Economic growth in the Asian region remains strong – 5.9% in 2015, with a forecast of 5.7% growth this year and next. Yes, the fruits of that growth need to be shared equally and must be sustained over the longer term. We simply cannot afford to be complacent.

Set against such a backdrop, we are expecting vigorous discussions during the 2–5 May Annual Meeting, but also—in the spirit of cooperation—ongoing encouragement, support, and most importantly powerful thought leadership from all those attending. This is my third ADB Annual Meeting, and I do hope that again we will set the standard for solutions that help eradicate poverty and reduce inequality in Asia and the Pacific.

For me this will mark the true essence of cooperating for sustainability.