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Jakarta Post

Make-or-break time for Indonesia's SDGs

  • Simone Galimberti


Kathmandu   /   Mon, July 6, 2020   /   09:18 am
Make-or-break time for Indonesia's SDGs Illustration of sustainable development (Shutterstock/PopTika)

Meeting people’s aspirations while balancing the needs of the planet should not only be the overarching theme of the next Human Development Report, the flagship publication of the United Nations Development Program, to be released later this year.

It should also be the main goal of a country like Indonesia, which is not out of the woods in the fight against COVID-19 and hasn’t yet felt the long-term economic consequences of the pandemic.

As recently reported by this daily, the country is at risk of losing all the progress made in the last few years in relation to the Sustainable Development Goals.

Agustaviano Sofjan, a senior official at the Foreign Ministry, said that the pandemic was a step back “in terms of achieving by 2030 the 17 economic, social and environmental goals stipulated in the SDGs”.

With the global economy entering one of the deepest recessions in modern history and the World Bank forecasting in its June 2020 Global Economic Prospects an “historic contraction of per capita income”, Indonesia is set to face of one the greatest challenges in its modern history.

Will the socioeconomic implications of the pandemic bulldoze what Indonesia has achieved so far in terms of the SDGs, or will the country instead be able to cushion the havoc, protect the most vulnerable segments of its population and reboot the economy sustainably?

The country proudly embraced the SDGs as a holistic opportunity for inclusive growth, setting up, at least on paper, an ambitious mechanism to coordinate the pursuit of the goals nationally and locally.

It is one of the few countries that presented twice its Voluntary National Review, a self-paced, country-driven monitoring of the SDGs.

It is a country that also exceptionally counted on a presidential decree that, back in 2017, created a strong coordination mechanism aimed at facilitating the pursuit of the goals.

While even in a pre-COVID-19 era there were gaps in matching ambitious policy planning with achievements on the ground, at least Indonesia created a “model” framework centered on localizing, as much as possible, the attainment of the goals.

No matter how much rhetoric you read these days with the so-called “build back better”, the truth is that the challenges ahead are going to be daunting.

Can Indonesia capitalize on the achievements of its social and economic development over the past few years to reinvent its economic model and relaunch its bid toward Agenda 2030, the backbone of the SDGs?

Will the foreign investment policy being pursued so tenaciously by the government be progressive enough to attract not just any type of investment, but only those that are sustainable and green?

An Oxford Business Group report on the Indonesian economy highlights how the strong economic performance over 2019 could offer the foundations for a robust recovery from the COVID-19 crisis.

Sri Mulyani Indrawati had recognized, even before the pandemic, that such growth also fed a rising inequality and that improving the delivery of local services at the district and local levels was paramount.

In setting up a very comprehensive SDGs coordination framework, the government of Indonesia recognized the encompassing nature of the goals, which are oftentimes wrongly seen as separate from and parallel to the national development agenda.

Indeed, every single policy action is not only related but also conducive to either getting closer to the implementation of the goals or getting farther away from them.

When we talk about the omnibus bill on job creation, we talk about the SDGs.

The sexual violence bill? It’s SDGs, too. Isn’t protecting and empowering women whose economic potential, if untapped, could unleash an inclusive impetus to the national recovery about the goals?

Ditto for the relocation of the capital city to East Kalimantan: Will the government really be able to create a world standard eco-city that can boost low consumption and circular economies without destroying the rich and diverse ecosystem?

At the end of the day, a serious implementation of Agenda 2030 will not only depend on a robust and efficient framework whose delivery relies on the political will of the presidency. The chances to achieve the goals will ultimately depend on the sheer politics that will play out in the coming months and years.

Could each new policy and legislation be audited from a SDGs perspective, taking into account its impact on the most vulnerable?

Perhaps this could be seen as a limitation or an obstacle to a quick recovery, or instead this could be an opportunity to pause and lay the grounds for a sustainable future.

The country is not short of best practices.

FoMMA, the Alliance of the Indigenous Peoples of Kayan Mentarang National Park, recently won the prestigious Equator Prize for its traditional forest-based economic system that “mitigates climate change while retaining traditional ways of life”.

The recognition was also awarded to Indonesian initiatives in 2015 and 2019.

Environmental justice warrior Aeshnina Azzahra Aqilani, born in 2007, is now recognized internationally for her fight against plastic pollution and a few weeks ago was one of the key speakers at a virtual summit organized by the Asian Venture Philanthropy Network.

The SDG Academy, a partnership between Tanoto Foundation, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Indonesia and the National Development Planning Agency (Bappenas), can set an example by instilling new knowledge on the SDGs in the entire ASEAN region.

These examples can show the way forward for the country.

When we talk about sustainable development and social justice, the stakes could not be higher for Indonesia.

Its long-term prosperity really depends on a national approach that will embed the SDGs into the core of any new social economic recovery.


The writer is cofounder of ENGAGE, a not-for-profit based in Kathmandu, who writes about social inclusion, youth development and regional integration as an engine to improve people’s lives in Asia.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.