A motorcyclist rides through a muddy street in Marikina City, suburban Manila

A motorcyclist rides through a muddy street in Marikina City, suburban Manila, on November 13, 2020, a day after Typhoon Vamco hit the capital area bringing heavy rains and flooding. (Photo: Ted Aljibe, AFP)

ASEAN Sustainable Development Goals: Notable, But More Can Be Done

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ASEAN member states have made notable achievements in attaining their Sustainable Development Goals, but more needs to be done in areas such as environmental sustainability.

ASEAN recently launched its inaugural Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Indicators Baseline Report 2020. The report tracks all ten-member states’ progress in pursuing their SDGs, which brings the latest data to present economic, social, and environmental indicators. The report also highlighted not only SDG indicators, but also provided much needed insights for strengthening statistical inter-agency cooperation and regional data coordination. This is the first time the SDGs were synchronized at the regional level since they were adopted in the 2015 ASEAN Charter and ratified by all 10 member states. 

ASEAN SDG Indicators: Getting There

201620172018
No povertyProportion of population living below the national poverty line, Both Sexes, Total (%)

Proportion of population living below the national poverty line, Both Sexes, In rural areas (%)  
14.8

   
20.1
14.6


19.9
13.0


18.0
Quality EducationProportion of teachers in pre-primary education who have received at least the minimum organised teacher training (%)    74.276.584.6
Gender EqualityProportion of women in managerial positions (%)      39.842.943.6
Affordable Clean EnergyRenewable energy share in the total final energy consumption (%)      22.621.020.6
Industry InnovationProportion of population covered by a mobile network (%)      75.277.078.6
Climate ActionNumber of deaths, missing persons and directly affected persons attributed to climate-related disasters per 100,000 population  3,524.32,281.03,522.4
PartnershipsTotal government revenue as a proportion of GDP (%)      16.416.516.8
Source: ASEAN Sustainable Development Goals Indicators Baseline Report 2020

The report highlighted ASEAN’s notable achievements, especially on economic and social indicators. On achieving the first goal – No Poverty – significant progress on poverty reduction has been made. The proportion of ASEAN population living below the national poverty line has been reduced from 14.8 per cent in 2016 to 13.0 per cent in 2018. Similarly, the proportion of the population living below the poverty line in rural areas has plummeted from 20.1 per cent in 2016 to 18.0 per cent in 2018.

ASEAN has also improved its 9th SDG Goal: Industry, Innovation, and infrastructure. The data highlights that manufacturing employment as a proportion of total employment has risen from 11.7 per cent in 2016 to 12.6 per cent in 2018. The proportion of the population covered by a mobile network has also improved significantly from 75.2 per cent in 2016 to 78.6 per cent in 2018. On achieving the 17th Goal – Partnership for the Goals – ASEAN has improved its fiscal capacity to collect revenue. The total government revenue as a proportion of GDP has increased from 16.4 per cent in 2016 to 16.8 per cent in 2018. 

On pursuing social development, ASEAN has made significant improvements too, especially on pursuing the 4th Goal and the 5th Goal  – Quality Education and Gender Equality. The proportion of teachers in pre-primary education who have received at least the minimum organised teacher training has significantly climbed from 74 per cent in 2016 to 84.5 per cent in 2018. The proportion of women in managerial positions has improved from 39.8 per cent in 2018 to 43.6 per cent in 2018.

The SDG indicators show that there is no other way forward for ASEAN except to work towards the environmental stewardship it wants to fully achieve for the SDGs by 2030.

However, despite making significant achievements on economic and social indicators, many negative trends still appear on the environmental front. For instance, in terms of the 13th SDG Goal – Climate Action – ASEAN still recorded a high number of deaths, missing persons and affected persons attributed to climate-related disasters. In 2018, there were 3,522 per 100,000 population affected by climate-related events, up from 2,281 in 2017. 

On achieving the 15th Goal – Promotion of Sustainable Land Ecosystems – efforts to conserve the region’s forests remain dismal. The number of natural forest areas as a proportion of total land area has slumped from 44.7 per cent in 2016 to 43.8 per cent in 2018.

To compound matters, efforts on sustainable energy transition as set by the 7th SDG Goal has not been satisfactory. Although renewable energy sources such as solar, hydropower, and wind have made inroads into the region, they have not been distributed or used efficiently. The data shows that ASEAN recorded a decrease in renewable energy share in the total consumption from 22.6 per cent in 2016 to 20.6 per cent in 2018.

The SDG indicators show that there is no other way forward for ASEAN except to work towards the environmental stewardship it wants to fully achieve for the SDGs by 2030. The emphasis on environmental action is vital because environmental disruptions can undermine all regional economic development aspirations. Anyone who doubts this should remember Cyclone Nargis which devastated Myanmar in 2008, causing damage totalling US$12.9 billion and 130,000 deaths. This dragged disaster victims who lost their livelihoods into poverty. One should also think of the 2015 transboundary haze event that cost Indonesia and Singapore respectively 1.9 per cent and 0.17 per cent of their GDP. The quantum of GDP loss might be minuscule, but if haze incidents occur frequently, the accumulative loss becomes consequential – not to mention other disruptions such as biodiversity degradation and implications on public health and agriculture. 

The SDG indicators have shown that ASEAN has successfully leveraged its resources such as youthful population, a rising middle class and the use of technology to improve economic wellbeing and social development. But ASEAN has to move beyond those economic growth aspirations and orient towards the environmental imperatives. 

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