Charting Asia’s Transformation to Sustainable Development

6 Nov 2017
Influential economist Professor Jeffrey Sachs speaks at SMU

Asia's successful transformation to sustainable development is vital not only for the future of the region but also for the whole world, suggested Prof Jeffrey Sachs, speaking at the Singapore Management University (SMU). He said that Asia is at the centre of the world economy, with more than half the world's population and contributing roughly half of global production, and that Asia also faces at least half of the world's deep environmental challenges and crises.

Professor Sachs was delivering the 32nd lecture in SMU’s Presidential Distinguished Lecturer Series (PDLS) on 1 November 2017. Presently a Professor at Columbia University, he is widely considered to be one of the world’s leading experts on economic development, global macroeconomics, and the fight against poverty. His work on ending poverty, overcoming macroeconomic instability, promoting economic growth, fighting hunger and disease, and promoting sustainable environmental practices, has taken him to more than 125 countries with more than 90 percent of the world’s population.

For more than thirty years Professor Sachs has advised dozens of heads of state and governments on economic strategy, in the Americas, Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. Professor Sachs has received many awards and honours, including the 2015 Blue Planet Prize, the leading global prize for environmental leadership. His conversation with Tyler Cowen won the Quartz Podcast Award for best business/economics podcast of 2015. He has received more than 20 honorary degrees, and many awards and honours around the world.

In his welcome address, SMU President Professor Arnoud De Meyer said, “Many of you will be aware that one of SMU’s selected Research Areas of Excellence is Urban Management & Sustainability. As cities grow and flourish, they face increasingly complex challenges. Our researchers are collaborating across disciplines to understand and solve these challenges. The results are evident in the form of practical solutions to last-mile problems and waste management, as well as the distillation of useful insights from large geospatial datasets. By working together with governments, businesses and individuals on urban management and sustainability issues, SMU researchers are building cities that can withstand the test of time.”

He highlighted the fact that as a knowledge institution, SMU further aims to contribute to the sound understanding and exchange of views on the topic of sustainable development. Past discussion forums organised for that purpose include last year’s Ho Rih Hwa Leadership in Asia Public Lecture Series where former UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon addressed the SMU community on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, as well as SMU’s Tri-Sector Forum in May 2017, titled “Partnerships for Sustainable Development”. The Tri-Sector Forum showcased how innovative cross-sector partnerships can address emerging “glo-cal” challenges, which referred to challenges faced by individual nations, which are also shared across the globe.

During the lecture, Professor Sachs discussed Asia's major challenges regarding the conservation of biodiversity, transition to low-carbon energy, upscaling of quality education, reduced inequalities of income, and technological innovation. He highlighted three global crises, namely rising income inequality, environmental threats and geopolitical conflict. Professor Sachs challenged the audience to consider how universities can formulate possible solutions to address these real and time-bound issues that impact populations on a global scale.

According to Prof Sachs, Asia’s sustainable development would be impacted by transitions in the areas of demography, technology, social, ecology, energy and governance. Using the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals as a framework for analysis, planning, accountability, politics, and social mobilization, Professor Sachs presented an integrated approach to economic development, social inclusion, and environmental sustainability. Members of the audience benefited from his insights on how this framework could be deployed at local, national, and regional levels, as well as by business and civil society.

Professor Sachs underscored the importance of regional cooperation for any impactful changes to be made towards the goal of ensuring sustainable development. He highlighted respect for diversity as a key ingredient for cooperation, using Singapore as an illustration of a society where its inclusive approach towards diversity has engendered progress and success.

Following the lecture, Prof De Meyer moderated an engaging question-and-answer session whereby the audience posed thought-provoking questions on topics such as the role of businesses in contributing towards sustainable development. 

Watch a video of the event on our YouTube channel:

Part 1:

Part 2:


Featured photo: Professor Jeffrey D. Sachs of Columbia University speaking at SMU’s Presidential Distinguished Lecturer Series on 1 November 2017.

Last updated on 9 Nov 2017.

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