Haoliang Xu: Remarks at “The 2030 Agenda Implementation in Asia and the Pacific” event at Georgetown University

Feb 3, 2016

Haoliang Xu speaking at the Georgetown University event. Photo: USAID/Gregg Rapaport

February 3, 2016. Washington DC. 

I am delighted to be at the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University as a speaker at this important discussion on implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in Asia and the Pacific.

I thank Professor Irfan Nooruddin for the warm welcome and introduction. I appreciate that the Masters of Science in Foreign Service and Asian Studies Program organized this event.  

I recognize and thank Mr. Tony Pipa from USAID for his presence and for the leadership he contributed to the intergovernmental negotiations as the US Special Coordinator for the Post-2015 Development Agenda.

Later this month, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) will celebrate its 50th anniversary.

As the leading and coordinating agency of the United Nations (UN) development system, everything we have accomplished, we have done so in partnership with national and international stakeholders.

In Asia and the Pacific, UNDP is known primarily for building capacity of national institutions that manage the region’s remarkable growth.

While in the year 2000 the region accounted for less than 30 percent of world’s GDP, by 2014 this contribution had risen to almost 40 percent, according to the IMF.
Consequently,, the number of people living in poverty in the region fell sharply from 1.1 billion in 2000 to an estimated 314 million today.

This impressive result was accelerated by the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) framework in place between 2000 and 2015.

MDGs demonstrated what is possible when governments, the UN, multilateral banks, civil society, private sector and academia work together.

Last year, world leaders renewed this global partnership when they adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – a universal, integrated and transformative vision for a better world.

The 2030 Agenda – a result of unprecedented participatory consultations – is composed of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 targets to wipe out poverty, fight inequality and tackle climate change over the next 15 years.

What counts now is translating promises on paper into change on the ground.

In order to achieve the SDGs, we have to make sure we deliver on its main features:

•    Leave no one behind;
•    Universality; and
•    Ambition.

Today, I will speak about how we can make this bold, ambitious and transformational agenda work, and UNDP’s contribution to this effort.

Leave no one behind

Above all, the 2030 Agenda pledges to leave no one behind.

The 2030 Agenda calls for ending poverty in all its forms.

The consensus is that no target should be considered met until it is met for everyone.

Every woman and every man, every girl and every boy.

This has far-reaching implications for project design and implementation.

Under the 2030 Agenda, we committed to deliver the last – and the hardest – mile on development targets.

We promised to extend public services to all politically, geographically, culturally or otherwise marginalized groups.

We have to think big, scale up development initiatives.

For example, in Vietnam, the proportion of poor decreased from 60 percent of population in the early 1990’s to around 7 percent today.

As in many other countries, the rising tide of prosperity did not lift every boat.

Ethnic minorities make up around 14 percent of the population but they account for more than half of those living in poverty.

Almost all of these marginalized communities live in remote, hard to access areas, where geography hampers both livelihoods and provision of public services.

However, the Government of Vietnam has prepared, with our support, a plan and has allocated resources to address the public service gaps and promote economic opportunities for  marginalized ethnic minorities.

We need this kind of bold, large scale and targeted initiatives- implemented under government’s leadership and budget- across the region to achieve the SDGs.


While the MDGs had to be met by developing countries, the SDGs apply to all countries, poor, rich and middle-income.

US President Barack Obama stated in his remarks at the ceremony adopting the 2030 Agenda that: “Poverty, growing inequality exists in all of our nations, and all of our nations have work to do.”

Implementing the 2030 Agenda requires action from everyone, everywhere.

But not every country has the capacity to advance simultaneously17 goals in 169 targets.

There is a need to support capacity of implementing institutions.

UNDP is a specialist in building institutions. Take, for example, Bangladesh, one of the most disaster prone countries in the world.

In 1991, around 140,000 people died after a category four storm, Cyclone Gorky, struck Bangladesh.

Following this catastrophe, the government and its international partners, including UNDP, set up disaster management institutions with early warning systems, evacuation plans and drills, and education and awareness raising programs.

When a comparable category four storm, Cyclone Sidr, hit in 2007, it caused 3,400 casualties.

While every loss of life is tragic, this example shows the difference proper institutions can make.

To implement the SDGs, there will be a need for capacity building, technical assistance and knowledge exchange through bilateral, multilateral and South-South cooperation mechanisms, including in areas, such as migration, urbanization, job creation and youth.


The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon summarized the 2030 Agenda’s ambition when he said: “Now we must use the goals to transform the world.”

The 2030 Agenda aims at tackling key systemic barriers to sustainable development such as inequality, unsustainable consumption and production patterns, inadequate infrastructure and lack of decent jobs.

The SDG implementation will require a departure from “business as usual.”

We cannot afford to work in silos or be driven only by priorities that reflect short-term election cycle interests.

We have to address economic, social, and environmental challenges at once.

We are taking on big issues and our solutions must be bold and large --yet simple and clear.

Many domestic and international entities have been involved in supporting the governments in designing integrated interventions. UNDP worked with China, Lao PDR, Vietnam, and other countries on developing holistic reform solutions for their five-year or longer-term plans.

In addition to pursuing integrated development programming, the scope of SDG implementation will require emphasis on innovation, data collection, open participation and multi-stakeholder engagement.

For example, in partnership with Baidu in China, we created an award winning app which helps consumers recycle electronic products by connecting them to waste recycling and dismantling agencies across major cities.

The project integrates the informal electronic waste recycling sector into the legitimate electronic waste processing industry, transforming an informal economy into a network of formal jobs. It allows proper disposal and processing of electronic waste instead of illegal, toxic dump sites.

It changes the lives of people while protecting the environment. It engages local authorities and businesses. It creates a new market.

We have to nurture this kind of a ‘whole of agenda’ and ‘whole of society’ innovative thinking and infuse it into SDG implementation.

One such new idea will transform the development sector just as iTunes changed the music business.

UNDP’s role in the changing development landscape

Over the past 50 years, we designed, implemented and evaluated thousands of projects that improved the lives of millions of people through integrated economic, social and environmental interventions.

UNDP is the “facilitator” and “connector” that mashes up public and private, domestic and international sources of development finance and expertise into effective programmes that accelerate progress.

Our US$ 2 billion global portfolio of environmental projects funded mainly by the Global Environment Facility attracts new US$ 8.35 billion co-financing investments.

We produced more than 140 MDG reports in Asia and the Pacific, tracking progress and recommending improved anti-poverty strategies.

The demand for UNDP’s services by governments from Asia and the Pacific with their own funding – the so called government co-financing – nearly doubled over the past five years.

When it comes to SDG implementation, UNDP is playing a role within the broader UN Development Group’s initiative on mainstreaming, acceleration and policy support.

As the UN’s lead development organization, UNDP will continue to serve as the coordinating agency of the UN development system which ensures the coherence of UN’s work on the ground.

In terms of our own SDG offer, we are preparing a package of services called “CLEAR” which stands for Coherence and Linkages, Expertise, Access and Reporting.

We are already supporting SDG agenda at the request of the governments.

We are mainstreaming SDGs into national development plans and budgets in Bhutan, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Mongolia, Philippines and Tonga.

As we gear up to implement SDGs, financing for development is changing.

The Official Development Assistance (ODA) stood at a record US$ 137.2 billion in 2014.

However, developing countries have become less ODA dependent.

While aid represented 13.5 percent of the total financial inflows in Asia and the Pacific in 1990, it fell to 3.4 percent in 2012.

In 2001, aid made up 5.5 percent of the national budget in the Philippines. In 2013, the national budget almost quadrupled and the portion of aid reduced to 0.45 percent.

The changing role and significance of ODA has an impact on the development sector.

For UNDP, to continue to provide support over the next 15 years, we need political and financial stability.

These are the two main discussions that will shape UNDP’s future role in the SDG implementation:

1.    While the developing countries expect from UNDP technical assistance in managing economic growth, industrialization and job creation, the donor countries that fund UNDP ask us to concentrate on peace, governance and conflict resolution. The two views will need to be reconciled.

2.    Contributions to UNDP's organizational and administrative funding have been declining which affects our ability to operate strategically. The UN Member States will have to help us solve the following dilemma: Should UNDP remain an agency funded by voluntary contributions from OECD donors, or, should UNDP transform into an agency funded by all its Member States?

The long-term role of UNDP in SDG implementation will depend on the future form of its governance structure and funding mechanism.  

As UNDP Administrator Helen Clark said, “Ours is the last generation which can head off the worst effects of climate change, and the first generation with the wealth and knowledge to eradicate poverty.”

With decades of experience in providing development support to 36 countries through 24 offices in Asia and the Pacific, we are ready to provide strategic policy and project delivery support to the 2030 Agenda across the region.

Working together, we can achieve the SDGs and ensure that no one is left behind. What is needed is a clear long-term political and financial commitment of the Member States.

Thank you.

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