SDGs' report card is out, and Asia-Pacific is failing

SDGs' report card is out, and Asia-Pacific is failing

A UN report on the progress of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2017, released last month, shows that the Asia-Pacific region is failing to meet targets for almost two-thirds of them.

In 2015, UN member countries agreed on a set of 17 global goals that would be achieved by 2030. Under each of the 17 goals, there are also specific targets to be measured by certain indicators.

The UN progress report for the Asia-Pacific region shows that out of 57 sustainable development targets, the region is lagging behind on 37; seven targets are considered in "a deteriorating situation", according to the report released by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UN-Escap) in May 2018.

In her foreword, Shamshad Akhtar, the UN's under-secretary-general and Executive Secretary, United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific states: "At the regional level, satisfactory progress has been made towards eradicating poverty (Goal 1) and promoting good health and wellbeing (Goal 3). But at the current rate of progress, only Goal 4 focused on achieving quality education and lifelong learning opportunities will be met."

Environmental inadequacy

Since 2015, there has been a deterioration in the health of the Asia-Pacific's oceans. Measures to conserve and sustainably use ocean, sea and marine resources (Goal 14) need to be strengthened. The report finds there has been no progress made towards protecting, restoring and promoting the sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems (Goal 15). The news about the region's forests is also dire: The protection of forest areas and the reduction in degradation of natural habitats has weakened at the regional level since 2015. In terms of biodiversity loss, "the whole region is regressing".

Climate threat

The countries in the Asia and the Pacific region are some of the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Under a business-as-usual scenario, a 6C increase in temperatures is projected over the Asian landmass by the end of the century. This could end up devastating the region's weather system, agriculture and fisheries sectors.

However, despite the existential threat posed by climate change to many countries in the region, progress towards climate action (Goal 13) is very limited.

Southeast Asia, in particular, is found to have "made no progress towards SDGs on climate action."

In its summary, the report says: "The situation has worsened due to increased air pollutants."

Widening inequalities

One of the most pressing concerns is the failure of the Asia-Pacific region to reduce inequalities (Goal 10). In fact, the report finds the opposite: "inequalities to be widening relative to 2000, as some countries have enjoyed much stronger growth than others and have not always been successful in sharing its proceeds equitably. High-income countries are not only moving backwards in reducing inequalities but have also diverged over the past 17 years. In terms of gender inequality, "South and South-West Asia had "made very little progress" in 2017, according to the report.

For Southeast Asia, not only has it not succeeded in reduced inequalities but it is the only subregion with "widening inequalities". "Inequalities are found to be widening compared to 2000 because rapid economic growth has not always been equitably shared," said Ms Akhtar.

Data paucity

One of the challenges in compiling an assessment of the SDGs' progress across the Asia-Pacific is the limited or uneven data availability, and the report highlights the need for a more integrated and inclusive approach for generating statistics. The report reveals that: "Only a quarter of the official SDG indicators can be used to assess progress in Asia and the Pacific due to limited data availability". The Asia-Pacific region must urgently address the large data gaps, which limit a comprehensive and robust progress assessment of the SDGs.

For example, to assess progress on climate action and life below water, the report had no indicator available, so the entire analysis was done based on proxy indicators.


Rajesh Daniel is Communications Coordinator, Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) Asia.

Rajesh Daniel

Stockholm Environment Institute communications coordinator

Rajesh Daniel is communications coordinator, Stockholm Environmental Institute.

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