SDG 2030: Mapping ASEAN's Progress Towards Sustainability

SDG 2030: Mapping ASEAN's Progress Towards Sustainability
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Soon, Southeast Asian countries will celebrate the ASEAN anniversary, marking their collective step forward in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Since their adoption by the United Nations in 2015, the SDGs have been an important guide for ASEAN countries in their efforts to achieve sustainable development. 

As one of the most diverse and dynamic regions in the world, Southeast Asia has made significant progress in recent years on various SDG goals, including poverty eradication, access to quality education, inclusive health, environmental protection, and gender equality. As ASEAN's anniversary approaches, we highlight the region's achievements and challenges in realizing a shared vision for a better and sustainable future for all its citizens. The data we use comes from ASEAN's 2022 Report, which examines the 2016-2020 timeframe. It also draws on other supporting sources.

Good news from Southeast Asia!

The ASEAN region, home to some of Asia's fastest growing economies, is not immune to the negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic crisis. In 2020, the year the COVID-19 pandemic began and caused a global health crisis, the ASEAN region faced a slump in economic conditions, with a decline in average GDP per capita and GDP per worker. 

The unemployment rate reached 5.4 percent in 2020, a higher rate than in 2016. Travel restrictions imposed due to the pandemic also led to a significant decline in passenger traffic and air cargo.

Meanwhile, in terms of child malnutrition, the average prevalence rates of stunting and wasting decreased, albeit slightly. On the other hand, maternal and under-five mortality rates have declined in most ASEAN countries for which data are available. The proportion of births attended by skilled birth attendants has also increased. The same is true for HIV disease, with a decline in new cases, and for tuberculosis incidence rates.

In education, enrolment in pre-primary education has also increased, albeit marginally. The ASEAN region also recorded a higher average proportion of qualified primary school teachers.

One area of significant progress was in Internet access and use. Indicators such as fixed broadband internet subscriptions, the proportion of internet users and the population covered by mobile networks all increased. Nearly 77 out of every 100 people in the ASEAN region used the internet in 2020, up from only about 53 out of 100 in 2016.

Moreover, the population with fixed internet broadband subscriptions almost doubled between 2016 and 2022, while the proportion of people covered by mobile networks also increased, albeit at a slower pace compared to the other two indicators mentioned.

Ongoing Challenges

Unfortunately, there are still some indicators that show minimal change in variable performance across ASEAN member states. For example, access to computers in primary schools for educational purposes and the gender parity index remained the same between 2016 and 2020.  In addition, poverty indicators, vulnerability to climate-related disasters, and the regional average show an increase in 2020, indicating that the region is becoming more vulnerable.

The ASEAN region is at risk of facing serious challenges if the SDG targets are not successfully achieved. The situation is all the more urgent given that many coastal cities and less developed countries in the region are at high risk of flooding and other natural disasters. Unfortunately, current trends suggest that Asian countries, including ASEAN member states, may not be able to achieve 90% of their SDG targets by 2023, as revealed by ESCAP.

On average, countries experienced difficulties in reporting on more than 60% of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) indicators between 2015 and 2019. This is because many countries face constraints in collecting data on a regular basis, resulting in the unavailability of adequate data. In the ASEAN report, only 29 out of 231 SDG indicators could be examined due to lack of data, leaving much of the progress on various goals undocumented and ultimately leading to deviations from the path of achieving these goals.

Beyond the issue of data unavailability, there is also the issue of data underreporting, with some countries choosing not to report certain data for fear of negative publicity. As a result, some initiatives that could contribute to the achievement of the SDG targets cannot be developed due to the lack of complete information. Under these circumstances, there is an imbalance between the different SDGs, with some goals being prioritized over others in countries' national action plans. 

For example, gender equality, which is Goal 5 of the SDGs, may be given lower priority in ASEAN than Goal 7, affordable and clean energy, resulting in under-reporting of progress and off-track progress in the region.

In the midst of these challenges, ASEAN member states have less than 10 years to achieve their SDG aspirations. While significant progress has been made, the pace and rigor with which the goals are being achieved is still lacking. 

The momentum of ASEAN's anniversary celebration should be a good time for countries in the region to unite and commit to achieving the SDGs more effectively. A better understanding of the regional situation will be invaluable in informing relevant and effective policies. Therefore, there is a need to obtain updated information on the situation and developments in the ASEAN region to support efforts to achieve the overall sustainable development goals.

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