By Tian Yuan
According to Asian Development Outlook (ADO) 2019 Update issued by Asian Development Bank (ADB) in September, developing countries in Asia need to formulate effective and coordinated land and economic planning and build efficient transportation networks and affordable housing to meet demands from quickly expanding cities and continuously promote economic growth to create jobs.
A special correspondent from China Report ASEAN conducted an interview with Bambang Susantono, Vice- President for Knowledge Management and Sustainable Development of the Asian Development Bank (ADB), on the subject of sustainable infrastructure. Before joining ADB, Susantono was Indonesian Vice-Minister of Transportation and Deputy Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development.
China Report ASEAN: Under the framework of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, what impact do you think sustainable infrastructure will exert on the global economy and social development?
Bambang Susantono: Infrastructure is the prerequisite for economic development and critical to sustainable and inclusive growth. Infrastructure makes it easier for people to participate in labor, produce goods, provide services and help products enter the market for efficient distribution. It also promotes technological progress. For such reasons, the scale and quality of infrastructure investment are crucial to improving human well-being.
The specific objectives on infrastructure in Goal 9 of 17 Global Goals that make up the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development read: “Develop quality, reliable, sustainable and resilient infrastructure… to support economic development and human wellbeing, with focus on affordable and equitable access for all.”
Sustainable infrastructure investment not only promotes business and industry but also improves health and education outcomes while addressing water resources and climate change. Sustainable infrastructure requires more emphasis on design, financing, construction, operation, management and service to ensure maximum return on investment for the entire life cycle, which means the positive effects of infrastructure in promoting sustainable development and increasing economic, environmental and social benefits should be maximized. Sustainable infrastructure must be inclusive, resilient, adaptable to climate change and environmentally sensitive.
However, infrastructure cannot automatically achieve these goals. True sustainability requires social and environmental objectives to be taken into account during infrastructure design. For example, sustainable infrastructure investment should minimize emission of greenhouse gases, waste gases, sewage, solid waste and land degradation while observing social factors such as equitable benefits for women, seniors, the disabled and the vulnerable.
China Report ASEAN: How would you describe the current situation and prospects for sustainable infrastructure in Asia, especially in China?
Susantono: Over the past 50 years, industrialization has enabled many Asian countries to seize great progress in infrastructure development. Both public and private sectors have contributed significantly to the improvement of infrastructure in Asia. Asia’s infrastructure investment as a percentage of GDP is significantly higher than the rest of the world. China’s infrastructure development, especially expressways, highspeed rails and airports, has been impressive.
At the same time, the Chinese government is working to resolve environmental problems caused by infrastructure by increasing environmental protection, restoring major river basin ecosystems, managing air pollution, and responding to low-carbon economic initiatives. It should be noted that the concept of “ecological civilization” advocated by China is now known throughout Asia. China’s achievements in sustainable infrastructure benefit the region and the world at large. Other countries should learn from China.
However, infrastructure in Asia is still plagued by a development gap. Approximately 350 million people on the continent do not have access to electricity, 600 million lack decent water supply and 1.5 billion people survive without quality sanitary facilities. Still, as many as 1 billion people live more than two kilometers away from all-weather roads.
In recent years, urbanization has become a major challenge. The ADB expects China’s urban population to reach 70 percent of its total population by 2030, meaning 300 million more people will need jobs, housing and access to services in cities. Elsewhere in Asia, the percentage is likely to be even higher, exerting pressure on urban infrastructure to prevent air pollution, cope with water shortages and combat new risks from climate change such as flooding and rising sea levels. Asian countries, represented by China, must place more attention on green, clean, livable and other sustainable factors when developing infrastructure.
China Report ASEAN: From the perspective of policy, what concepts aid the development of sustainable infrastructure?
Susantono: Two types of concepts prevail in terms of developing sustainable infrastructure. One is economic principles, that is, comprehensive consideration of technical feasibility, greenhouse gas emissions and other life cycle costs, the ability to withstand natural disasters, and fair distribution of interests between enterprises and communities.
Second is a principle that involves environment, society, and public governance in a broad sense. For example, sustainable infrastructure should avoid, minimize or mitigate and compensate for adverse effects on the environment and society. Construction and operation should be based on fairness principles such as universal access and abuse prevention. It should help improve public governance in areas such as regulations, procurement systems, financial controls and monitoring reports.
These concepts have developed into a principle of high-quality infrastructure investment that is generally accepted by the international community. It has become solid consensus to maximize the positive role of infrastructure in terms of achieving sustainable development goals and improving economic efficiency while considering environmental and social concerns and enhancing resilience against natural disasters and other risks.
The ADB estimates that Asian countries will need to invest at least US$1.7 trillion annually by 2030 to develop infrastructure, sustain economic growth and combat climate change. Multilateral development banks such as the World Bank, ADB and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) should step up financing for sustainable infrastructure, provide technical support, spread advanced project experience and promote better understanding and implementation of the Paris Agreement by governments and the private sector.
For example, strengthening South-South Cooperation can help advanced international experience translate into measures tailored to local conditions while increasing investment and improving the management ability of local governments in sustainable infrastructure. In turn, the positive effects of sustainable infrastructure will become more broadly recognized by local civil society.