Tracking Progress of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

It has been more than three years since the historic 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was adopted by the 193 member states of the United Nations in September 2015. The adoption of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) was hailed as an ambitious and bold vision for sustainable development given its 17-part agenda—much more than the goals set by its predecessor, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), that was concluded in 2015.

The aim of the expanded SDG agendas was to build on the momentum of what the MDGs have achieved and go beyond the goals of eradicating poverty and hunger, improving health and achieving clean environment in order to address crosscutting challenges brought on by climate change, rapid urbanisation, demands for clean and sustainable energy, agriculture, and building resilient infrastructure, safe cities and human settlements. Significantly, the SDGs were also aimed at addressing rising inequality, promoting peaceful and inclusive societies, and increasing access to justice.  As noted in the statement of the UN General Assembly Resolution 70/1 that adopted the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, the global goals were ‘unprecedented in scope and significance…setting out a supremely ambitious and transformational vision.’

Since its adoption, annual reviews have been conducted and led by the High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) on Sustainable Development which is convened by the UN’s Economic and Social Council. The Forum, which is held in New York, brings together representatives from governments, the UN System, civil society, the private sector and other stakeholders.  It provides the platform for these representatives to exchange ideas and information on the progress of achieving the SDGs.  Progress is measured based on a set of indicators and measures for each goal which in turn helps to assess what works and what does not in the implementation of the Goals.  In further advancing work on tracking progress of the Goals, the HLPF has encouraged member states to conduct their own voluntary reviews at the national and sub-national levels.  These national reviews then serve as the basis for the regular reviews done by the HLPF and provide a platform for building partnerships, including through the participation of major groups and other relevant stakeholders.  It is useful to note that the latest report of the HLPF presented by the UN Secretary General in May 2018, noted that while there is moving progress in the implementation of the SDGs, much more work needs to be done to ensure commitments of all parties and in ensuring that no one is left behind.

Aside from the UN, the monitoring of progress of SDGs on countries and regions has also been done by international organisations like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) which recently released a report on “ASEAN Progress Towards Sustainable Development Goals and the Role of the IMF” in October 2018.  Similarly, CSR-Asia also brought out its report, “The Sustainable Development Goals and ASEAN 2025: A Guide for Business”, in March 2018. The two reports had noted significant progress made by ASEAN countries in reducing poverty, improving income and expanding economic opportunities. But the reports also flagged the need for ASEAN countries to reduce inequality within and between countries and address the gaps in sustainable development and the challenges of climate change.

A shared yet specific recommendation pointed out in the two reports and other studies in moving implementation of SDGs forward is noteworthy. That is that more efforts should be done by ASEAN countries to fully integrate the SDGs in their national development plans.  Moreover, given that the 2030 SDG goals are highly complementary with the ASEAN Community Vision 2025, more efforts should be made in finding ways to enhance regional cooperation in achieving the SDGs.  This means finding a coherent way to link global goals with regional/national programmes through targeted intra-regional programmes in issues like infrastructure development, cooperation in water and energy, and in managing migration. Thus, aligning the implementation of SDGs with the goals of a prosperous and peaceful ASEAN Community would allow for more efficient way in tracking progress of shared development goals.