Regional Cooperation in Asia and the Pacific region
Many countries in Asia and Oceania have experienced rapid economic growth, but often at the expense of the environment, climate and human rights. In Asia and Oceania, Sida addresses cross-border challenges in human rights, democracy, gender equality, climate and the environment. This is important because the rapid economic growth of many countries has come at the expense of the environment, climate and human rights.
Progress has been made
More middle-income countries
Many countries in the region have improved their economies and have become, or are becoming, middle-income countries.
Millions have left poverty
The proportion of people living in poverty has fallen significantly in the past ten years. At the same time, the Covid-19 pandemic has hit already vulnerable people hard.1
Greater awareness of environmental issues
For example, greater awareness of climate and environmental issues has led to countries banning plastic packaging and many countries stepping up efforts to tackle plastic debris in marine environments.2
Environmental damage and air pollution on the rise
Increased air and land pollution particularly affects people living in poverty as they are often directly affected, for example when cooking, or heating their homes.
Gap between rich and poor is growing
The income gap is widening, both within and between countries.3 More than half of the region’s population lacks internet access. Girls and women are hit hardest.4
Democracy is declining in many countries
In many parts of the region, democratic systems continue to be dismantled. The space for civil society to get involved is shrinking.
Development cooperation in Asia och the Pacific region
Asia and Oceania are a region with great differences between countries. It is home to some of the world’s smallest countries and the two most populous: India and China. There are functioning democracies, military dictatorships and single-party states. In many places, rapid economic development has come at the expense of the climate and the environment.5
As the fight against the pandemic and its consequences has risen to the top of the agenda, many countries have downgraded their environmental efforts. At the same time, the shift to digital meetings has sometimes improved cooperation between countries.
The pandemic has also been used to restrict freedom of expression.6
Environment and climate
Economic growth, population growth and urban migration are exacerbating environmental problems in the area. The effects of climate change are threatening biodiversity and human health, livelihoods and access to food. The political will to address the environment and climate is limited. Among other things, countries are continuing to expand coal-fired power.
Influencing global climate negotiations
The Himalayan region is severely affected by climate change. It is threatening the fragile mountain ecosystems and the people who depend on water from the glaciers. The International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) conducts research into and disseminates knowledge about the climate and environment in the region. The aim is to better manage cross-border natural resources and boost the region’s ability to influence global climate negotiations.
Bringing legal action relating to the environment
Climate change and environmental damage are hitting the region hard. People defending human rights, land rights and natural resources are subjected to threats and violence. EarthRights International helps reinforce respect for the environment, climate and human rights by educating grassroots organisations and bringing legal action where exploitation or pollution has limited communities’ access to food, water and farmland.
Reducing plastic in the oceans
Plastic pollution has long been a major problem in the region, and debris has increased in the form of single-use items and personal protective equipment during the Covid-19 pandemic. An initiative of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Coordinating Body on the Seas of East Asia (Cobsea) is to reduce plastic debris in marine environments. There is now a regional action plan against marine debris, and the link between science and decision-making has been strengthened. Cambodia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam have adopted or are in the process of adopting national action plans to reduce plastic waste in and around the sea.
Supporting sustainable fisheries
Biodiversity is essential to sustainable development. The Pacific-European Union Marine Partnership Programme (PEUMP) is working on a sustainability project that supports sustainable fisheries in the region, including through campaigns and partnerships with fishing companies.
Working together on water issues
Oxfam’s Transboundary Rivers of South Asia (TROSA) programme focuses on working together on rivers shared by several countries in Southeast Asia. Among other things, young people have participated in a training course resulting in a regional network for transboundary water issues.
Investing in the climate
The UNDP Climate Change Finance programme works to encourage more countries to make climate investments. Some positive results include Indonesia’s development of green bonds and Cambodia’s inclusion of climate investment in its development strategy. Fair Finance Asia is another initiative to increase green investment.
Democracy and human rights
In recent years, many countries in Asia and Oceania have introduced laws restricting freedom of the press, expression, association and assembly. Growing inequality, religious fundamentalism and xenophobia are creating populist leadership, increasing divisions in society and generating discrimination against people on the basis of ethnicity, gender and sexuality.
Enhancing digital safety
Environmental activists, human rights defenders and journalists are working under increased safety threats in the region. Engage Media is helping enhance the digital safety of activists and human rights defenders. The project is one of several being run in cooperation with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
Deeply rooted patriarchal structures leave women in the region with fewer economic opportunities and less political influence than men. UN Women, the International Commission of Jurists and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) work together to ensure that laws respect women’s rights. They strengthen women’s rights organisations and ensure that countries’ laws and judicial systems comply with the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
Corruption is an obstacle to sustainable development. People living in poverty, in vulnerable circumstances and subject to oppression are hardest hit. Women are particularly vulnerable. Sida supports the organisation ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) to strengthen the work against corruption in the region.
Empowering women and building their resilience
Girls and women have worse access to land, resources and information than men in the region. This makes them particularly vulnerable to climate change and natural disasters. UN Women and UN Environment are working together to strengthen resilience to climate change. This is being done by improving women’s access to resources and their opportunities to provide for themselves in the region, and by bringing women’s knowledge to bear in climate negotiations and other political processes.
Better working conditions for migrants
Migration can have positive effects for development, for the migrants themselves, for their families and for their countries of origin and destination. However, many migrant workers have unfairly low wages and unreasonable working conditions. The IOM’s Corporate Responsibility in Eliminating Slavery and Trafficking in Asia (CREST) initiative is working with private companies to protect the rights of migrant workers in Asia.
Governance of Sida's regional cooperation in Asia and the Pacific region
Sources on this page
- The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the economies of emerging market countries in Asia, on the OECD website
- About the work against plastic debris in the oceans on the ASEAN cooperation on environments website
- Poverty in Asia and the Pacific region on the UNESCAP website, 2019
- About the digital divide and the Covid-19 pandemic on the UN Women website
- About the environmental impact in Asia and the Pacific region on the UN Environment Programme website
- Global Risks Report 2019 on the World Economic Forum website
- About Covid-19 and freedom of expression on the OHCHR website
Updated: 28 December 2021