Market Insights

Vietnam’s Sustainable Development Journey from MDGs to SDGs

By 21 March, 2024No Comments

Hanoi, Vietnam

Vietnam, a country with a rich history and vibrant culture, has made significant strides in its sustainable development journey. Despite starting as one of the poorest nations in the mid-1980s, Vietnam has achieved remarkable progress over the past few decades. This article explores pivotal facets of Vietnam’s sustainability journey, offering insights into its noteworthy achievements, persistent challenges while revealing opportunities. By delving into these aspects, we aim to provide readers with a comprehensive understanding of Vietnam’s evolving landscape in the realm of sustainable development.

Vietnam’s journey from poverty to middle-income status was marked by the successful implementation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) from 2000 to 2015. The Millennium Development Goals were a set of eight international development targets established by the United Nations in 2000, aimed at addressing various global challenges such as poverty, hunger, gender inequality, and environmental sustainability.

This remarkable achievement serves as a pivotal milestone as the nation embarks on a new phase, enthusiastically embracing the more ambitious Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) outlined in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The Sustainable Development Goals, also known as the Global Goals, are a set of 17 interconnected goals adopted by the United Nations in 2015, designed to address a range of global challenges, including poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, peace, and justice.

Adopted by 193 United Nations Member States in September 2015, the 2030 Agenda introduces a comprehensive framework comprising 17 SDGs, 169 associated targets, and over 230 indicators. The official launch of this framework during the Sustainable Development Summit in New York set forth a transformative vision for global progress.

On May 10, 2017, Vietnam reaffirmed its commitment to the 2030 Agenda by enacting the National Action Plan under Decision 633/QD-TTg by the Prime Minister. Subsequently, the nation aligned its focus, integrating 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with 115 targets into its national development goals. This strategic alignment not only demonstrates Vietnam’s dedication to global objectives but also signifies a purposeful step towards realizing the 2030 agenda.

As the midpoint of the 2030 Agenda approached in 2023, the United Nations (UN) conducted a comprehensive report. This assessment revealed that globally, only 12% of assessable SDG targets are on track. While Vietnam’s performance slightly surpasses the global average, it still faces its share of challenges on the road to sustainable development.

Exploring Vietnam’s SDG Progress Through the Overall Index

The midpoint evaluation of the 2030 Agenda relies on the SDGs Overall Index Score, a comprehensive measure showcasing a country’s progress across all 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), expressed as a percentage. A perfect score of 100 signifies the full realization of the SDGs. Notably, Vietnam has witnessed a remarkable 28% increase in its SDGs Overall Index Score, soaring from 57.6 in 2016 to 73.3 in 2023, reflecting the nation’s unwavering dedication to sustainable development.

This positive momentum is further highlighted by Vietnam’s ascent in the global rankings of SDGs Overall Index Score among 192 UN member countries. From an initial position of 88th in 2016, Vietnam has made substantial leaps, reaching the 49th spot by 2020. Despite encountering challenges such as the repercussions of COVID-19, rising prices, financial instability, and natural disasters during 2021-2022, Vietnam has managed to maintain a strong standing, securing the 55th rank in the SDGs Overall Index. Moreover, Vietnam holds the 2nd position in regional rankings, trailing behind Thailand, with an index score surpassing the regional average of 67.2.

Vietnamese enterprises have played a pivotal role in bolstering the Overall Index Score and ranking position, as emphasized by the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI) during the Vietnam Business Forum for Sustainable Development. These enterprises actively embrace a corporate governance model aligned with sustainable development, enabling them to withstand adverse conditions with resilience.

However, during the event, the Deputy Prime Minister of Vietnam underscored a critical concern regarding the limited adoption of sustainable development practices in the country. Only 2 percent (2,000 businesses) out of 700,000 are part of the sustainable development community, with approximately 100,000 businesses having access to sustainable development information. This highlights both challenges and opportunities, emphasizing the imperative to support Vietnamese enterprises in embracing sustainable practices.

Graph showing Vietnam’s SDGs Overall Index Score and Rank in the period of 2016-2023

Graph showing Vietnam’s SDGs Overall Index Score compared to East and South AsiaFocus Areas in 17 SDGs for Recognizing Challenges while Revealing Opportunities

It’s clear that Vietnam needs to improve its performance across all 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to increase its overall SDG Index score. Beyond simply examining the Index score to identify areas requiring enhancement in Vietnam’s sustainable development, the Sustainable Development Report of 2023 provides a detailed overview. It assesses challenges at various levels – Major, Significant, Remaining, and Achieved – while also tracking progress in addressing these challenges, categorizing them as Decreasing, Stagnating, Moderately Improving, or On-track.

Chart showing Vietnam’s Overall Index Scores in 17 SDGs in 2023 vs. 2018*

Table showing SDG types and progress status

Critical areas for improvement include SDG 14 (Life below Water) and SDG 15 (Life on Land), both showing declining or stagnant progress with scores below 50. These challenges encompass pressures on coastal ecosystems, overfishing, illegal deforestation, land degradation, habitat loss, species extinction risks, and limited financial resources. However, within these challenges lies an opportunity for strengthened collaboration between Vietnam and the European Union (EU). At the December 2022 EU-ASEAN summit, the EU pledged support to Vietnam through the Sustainable Agriculture for Forest Ecosystems (SAFE) program, focusing on preventing deforestation and establishing deforestation-free supply chains.

While SDG 9 (Industry, Innovation & Infrastructure) has shown progress from 2018 to 2023, it, along with SDG 17 (Partnership for Goals), remains around the 60 marks, signaling a need for improvement. According to the assessment report, Vietnam must increase investments in research and development (R&D) human resources and strengthen the manufacturing industry to advance SDG 9. There is a clear indication that with international assistance, Vietnam can significantly enhance this aspect. For example, in 2021, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) launched the “Linkages for Small and Medium Enterprises” program, assisting Vietnamese SMEs in improving manufacturing competitiveness, productivity, and market access. Another example is the attention garnered by Vietnam’s semiconductor industry after the US president’s visit in September 2023, which offers opportunities in the supply chain and substantial support for advanced engineering and R&D facilities. Moreover, SDG 17 confronts persistent challenges in data availability, presenting significant business prospects and substantial international cooperation. Vietnam’s data center economy is projected to reach $1.03 billion by 2028, up from $561 million in 2022. With 77.93 million internet users in January 2023, the digital landscape is flourishing. Government initiatives, including a 10% Corporate Income Tax (CIT) rate for 15 years and 5G rollout, drive digital growth, encouraging increased investments in data centers and addressing data availability challenges in Vietnam.

SDG 16 (Peace, Justice & Strong Institutions) and SDG 3 (Good Health & Well-being) have moderately improved and fall within the 70-80 range but still pose significant challenges in Vietnam. According to the assessment report, Vietnam needs to focus more on issues related to the prevention of violence, especially against children, anti-corruption measures, and informal fee payments by enterprises when utilizing public services. Despite Vietnam’s Corruption Perception Index (CPI) reaching 42/100 points, ranking 77/180 globally in 2022, it remains below 50, indicating that corruption in the public sector is still deemed highly serious. Implementing SDG 3 still encounters numerous difficulties and challenges concerning maternal and child healthcare in ethnic minority and mountainous areas.

Amidst these challenges, opportunities arise in digitization and healthcare services. The integration of new technologies presents a crucial chance to combat corruption, notably within public health services where bribes were previously necessary for improved care at public district hospitals. In 2022, the Norwegian Government supported efforts to enhance anti-corruption and transparency in the health sector in Vietnam.

Vietnam faces diverse challenges across sustainable development, ranging from environmental concerns to industrial growth. Nonetheless, these challenges open doors to opportunities. Collaborations with the European Union and global support indicate pathways for positive change. Embracing digital advancements and addressing data obstacles pave the way for economic expansion. Despite concerns regarding corruption and healthcare, collective efforts offer potential for progress in peace, justice, and well-being. The key takeaway is that opportunities emerge from navigating challenges on the journey toward sustainable development.

Self- Assessment of Progress through Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs)

In addition to the mid-point assessment of the 2030 Agenda, Vietnam reaffirmed its commitment to global sustainable development by participating in the 2023 Voluntary National Review (VNR) for the second time, building upon its initial engagement in 2018. The review, skillfully presented by Vietnam’s Ministry of Planning and Investment (MPI), received support from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and various other development partners.

As outlined by the United Nations, Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) represent a country-led assessment of progress in implementing the 2030 Agenda, providing a comprehensive snapshot of a nation’s status regarding the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This voluntary process fosters the exchange of experiences, peer-learning, and mobilization of partnerships to accelerate progress towards SDGs. This self-assessment offers Vietnam a valuable opportunity to identify gaps, share insights, and showcase advancements aligned with the 2030 agenda.

Table showing Vietnam SDG progress

The country has also made important progress for:

Table showing Vietnam SDG progress

However, Vietnam still faces multiple challenges and therefore needs to accelerate the SDG implementation further.

Table showing Vietnam SDG progress

This self-assessment lays a robust groundwork for future SDG monitoring and the mobilization of social resources in Vietnam. The preparation process for the Voluntary National Review (VNR) has heightened awareness and engagement among key stakeholders, encompassing the National Assembly, government bodies, socio-political and socio-professional organizations, NGOs, the business community, UN agencies, development partners, research institutes, and experts.

The Road Ahead

Vietnam’s remarkable journey toward sustainable development is a testament to a nation rich in culture and progress, evidenced by its commitment to strategic investments in human capital, infrastructure, and social protection.

At the midpoint of the 2030 Agenda, Germany’s Charge Affaires in Vietnam recognizes a crucial opportunity for international collaboration to support Vietnam’s SDG endeavors. The nation’s steadfast commitment is underscored by ongoing investments, fostering a platform for global cooperation.

Crucial collaboration and support from development partners and responsible foreign investors are vital in the next seven years to bolster Vietnam’s national efforts. Uniting international cooperation with domestic action is essential for Vietnam to achieve its vision of sustainable development by 2030. Embracing sustainable practices serves as a potent tool for both Vietnamese and foreign businesses, facilitating the advancement of multiple Sustainable Development Goals. Aligning with these principles enables companies to contribute to Vietnam’s sustainable development, enhancing operational efficiency and brand reputation. Some key sustainable practices include:

  • ESG Frameworks: These frameworks play a crucial role for Vietnamese businesses, enabling them to navigate and advance Sustainable Development Goals with a specific focus on environmental, social, and governance aspects.
  • Green Supply Chain Management: This strategy is geared towards reducing the carbon footprint and waste, achieved through practices such as local sourcing, optimized transportation routes, and minimized packaging waste.
  • Renewable Energy: This presents an opportunity for businesses to leverage Vietnam’s abundant natural resources by investing in solar, wind, and hydropower, thereby reducing reliance on fossil fuels.
  • Circular Economy Principles: This involves adopting practices for waste reduction and increased resource efficiency. This includes designing products for reuse, recycling, and repair, as well as implementing closed-loop production systems.

The road ahead involves shared responsibility and collective action. As Vietnam progresses toward its 2030 sustainable development vision, responsible foreign investors and development partners are invited to collaborate for a more equitable and sustainable future.

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