The UN defines sustainable development as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. With the 2015 adoption of the 2030 Agenda, UN member states pledged to ensure “no one will be left behind” and to “endeavour to reach the furthest behind first”.

With Asia-Pacific having 16 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), progress remains slow. The region is on target to achieve only one (number four, quality education) by 2030.


Sufficient progress (green targets) for SDGs has been made in achieving no poverty (number one), good health and wellbeing (three), clean water and sanitation (six), affordable and clean energy (seven), as well as industry, innovation and infrastructure (nine).

There is insufficient progress (yellow targets) in achieving sustainable cities and communities (11), gender equality (five), climate action (13), zero hunger (two), responsible consumption and production (12), life below water (14), decent work and economic growth (eight) as well as life on land (15). The region is regressing (red targets) in two SDGs: reducing inequalities (10) and peace, justice and strong institutions (16).

So, while progress is slow, the good news is that major business opportunities exist in four key areas. In city development, the opportunities are in providing affordable housing, energy efficiency, electric and hybrid vehicles, as well as vehicle- and ride-sharing.

In energy materials, the opportunities are in recycling and remanufacturing of automotive, appliances and electronics industries, renewable energy, energy efficiency in non-energy-intensive industries, energy access and energy storage.

In food and agriculture, the opportunities are in reducing food waste in food chains, low-income food markets, sustainable aquaculture, technology in smallholder farms, and reducing packaging waste.

In health and wellbeing, opportunities exist in risk pooling, remote patient monitoring, telehealth and advanced genomics.

All these SDG opportunities could create 226 million jobs by 2030 in Asia-Pacific, providing work for about 12% of the region’s current labour force. City development is projected to contribute the biggest share with 99 million jobs, followed by energy and materials with 54 million jobs, food with 49 million jobs and health with 24 million jobs.

Murphy’s Law always applies in all visioning, planning, strategy development and programme execution, and Asia SDG planning is not exempt from such challenges. Five factors affect who is being left behind and why: discrimination; place of residence; socio-economic status; governance; and vulnerability to shocks, such as growing protectionism. The years 2019 to 2030 will be a busy period indeed.

Lawrence Yeo is CEO and principal consultant of AsiaBIZ Strategy, a Singapore-based management consulting firm providing Asia market research, business strategy development and export/FDI promotion services.