Various crises, like the COVID-19 outbreak, and their observable effects on the global supply chain are currently posing a threat to the timely achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2030. These crises also had an influence on the Southeast Asian (SEA) region, which has some of Asia’s fastest-growing economies. Therefore, it is essential to closely track its development towards achieving the SDGs.
The report titled “Implementing the SDG Stimulus: Sustainable Development Report 2023” analyses progress made each year on the SDGs. This edition evaluates the level of development so far and analyses the top priorities for accelerating SDG development. More specifically, it focuses on the need to scale up development finance and reform the global financial architecture to support the SDGs. The SDGs witnessed some development between 2015 and 2019, however, this was not substantial enough to meet the objectives. Global SDG progress has slowed since the pandemic outbreak in 2020 along with other concurrent natural emergencies. Automatic stabilisers, emergency spending, and recovery plans reduced the effects of these several crises on socio-economic results in the majority of high-income countries.
Southeast Asia Infrastructure takes a look at the progress made by the SEA region on select SDG indicators from the report. Excerpts…
Thailand leads SEA countries
According to the Sustainable Development Report 2023, Thailand has been ranked first in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). It scored around 74.7, securing 43rd position overall, in the assessment of its progress towards achieving 17 SDGs, covering areas like human and economic development, environment, peace and justice and partnership for development, among others. It has come at the top in ASEAN for the fourth consecutive year. It is followed by Vietnam, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Lao PDR and Myanmar, in the ASEAN region. The countries above the regional average of East and South Asia, with a score of 67.2, are Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia.
Thailand performed best in poverty reduction and it was on track to obtain a mark in the following SDGs including education quality; clean water and environmental sanitation; industrial innovation and infrastructure; and responsible consumption and production.
Performance of SEA countries on select indicators
SDG 6: Clean Water and Sanitation
The SEA region has been making many efforts to stop any negative trends in water use efficiency and the protection and restoration of water-related ecosystems. In order to achieve SDG 6, the current rate of progress needs to be enhanced and all citizens must have at least basic drinking water and sanitation services. Singapore is the only country in the region with 100 per cent coverage of population with basic drinking water and basic sanitation services. The countries also need to focus on reducing the dependence on freshwater sources and increase the treatment and reuse of wastewater to achieve the goal of circular economy in water, by reducing and reusing the wastewater.
SDG 7: Affordable and Clean Energy
Greater progress has been made towards SDG 7, with the expansion in the access to electricity. Countries like Brunei Darussalam, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand have reported 100 per cent access to electricity. With the focus on clean energy, many countries are now receiving more international financial aid for research and development in clean energy and renewable energy sources. Cambodia (23.5 per cent) is leading in the renewable energy share in total final energy consumption, followed by Lao PDR (22. 6 per cent) in the ASEAN region. However, there are countries like Brunei Darussalam and Singapore with less than 1 per cent share of renewable energy in total energy consumption. This trend needs to be reversed in the region and the renewable energy share must be increased.
SDG 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
A long-term strategy for industrialisation, innovation, digitalisation, and the development of resilient infrastructure is crucial in situations and difficulties like the Covid-19 pandemic. In order to achieve the 2030 agenda goals, this strategy is essential. Strong infrastructure and a diversified industrial base have helped some economies more than others to withstand the effects of COVID-19 and recover more quickly.
The pandemic’s effects on various industries, businesses, and workers were extremely diverse both globally and in the SEA region. Small- and medium-sized businesses, industries with high levels of integration into regional or global value chains, as well as businesses and workers in the informal economy, were the most vulnerable. The region needs to increase financial support for small-scale businesses in the future and increase the proportion of medium-high and high-tech industries in the total manufacturing value added.
SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities
Over the years, progress has been made on the targets of sustainable cities and communities. Countries in the SEA region have improved in the access to water piped water sources. Despite progress in implementing national and local disaster risk reduction strategies, human and economic losses from natural disasters have continued to increase and there has been very little progress towards reducing urban air pollution since 2015. There are still large populations living in slums or inadequate housing.
SDG 12: Responsible Consumption and Production
In order to achieve the goal, the SEA region urgently needs to reverse trends in material consumption and footprint. It has regressed on sustainable consumption and production. As a result of the region’s current unsustainable patterns, greenhouse gas emissions have risen drastically, creating a climate emergency. The health of people is directly harmed by rising air pollution caused by rising greenhouse gas emissions. Climate change may also worsen in the SEA region with the growing carbon emissions.
SDG 13: Climate Action
The prospects for sustainable development in the SEA region are fundamentally threatened by climate change and the associated disasters. Many countries and areas are producing more than half of all greenhouse gases and are extremely vulnerable to natural disasters brought on by climate change and extreme weather. Reversing the negative trend on climate action should be the top priority of the region. The existing evidence on the measurable targets suggests GHG emissions in the region have continued to rise.
Attaining the SDG goals will require that the ASEAN countries continue their considerable efforts in sectors like clean water and sanitation, affordable and clean energy, infrastructure, innovation and industry, among others. The SEA region is progressing well in the SDGs, but there still is a long way ahead.