In September 2015, United Nations member states adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The Agenda, to be achieved within 15 years, comprises 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with 169 specific targets and 230 indicators for measurement.1 The SDGs stress the importance of balancing the three dimensions of sustainable development – economic, social and environmental – in an integrated and inclusive manner so that no-one is left behind.2
Thailand has its own development framework that is being used to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, the Sufficiency Economy Philosophy (SEP). It relies on wisdom and integrity, as well as the principles of moderation, reasonableness and prudence, conceived by His Majesty the Late King Bhumibol Adulyadej. The focus of the SEP is sustainability and it has been adopted as the core principle of Thailand’s National Economic and Social Development Plan since 2002.3
The transition from the MDGs to the SDGs in Thailand
Globally, the SDGs were built on the success of the earlier Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) coordinated by the United Nations and member states. The campaign to achieve the MDGs began in 2000 and concluded in 2015. The MDGs were mainly concerned with social development, evidenced by their focus on addressing hunger, poverty and inequality, illiteracy, sickness and environmental degradation.
Thailand achieved most of the MDGs. The country has been guided by the SEP on its people-centered development approach, empowering people and communities. Thailand has also continued its contribution to the global development process by helping to strengthen its neighbors’ capacity to fulfill their MDG commitments and their future development endeavors.4 Thailand has shared the expertise it gained from achieving the MDGs directly with other countries, as well as through regional forums such as ASEAN. These capacity-building efforts have worked through a variety of channels including bilateral/trilateral cooperation, South-South cooperation and multilateral frameworks. For example, Thailand has been actively sharing SEP as a development model to the international community, especially since it chaired the G-77 in 2016. Thailand also helped to establish SEP-based projects in a number of countries including Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Lesotho, Myanmar, Timor-Leste and Tonga.5
Since the beginning, sustainability has been at the heart of SEP. Many principles underpinning SEP involved efforts to deal with sustainability in Thailand, to balance economic progress, environmental protection and human needs. SEP is also in conformity with the core principle of the 2030 Agenda and can serve as an approach to support the realization of SDGs in the global context.6
Localisation of the SDGs
Since the 1997 Asian financial crisis, the Sufficiency Economy Philosophy (SEP) has been a key guiding principle of Thailand’s sustainable development efforts. The philosophy stresses balance in the use of economic, social, environmental and cultural capital. The SEP is based on three principles that stress a middle path for Thai people at all levels, from family to community to country. These principles are:7
In 1998, the King elaborated on the meaning of moderation:
“Sufficiency is moderation … Being moderate does not mean being too strictly frugal; consumption of luxurious items is permissible …. but should be moderate according to one’s means.”
— Royal Speech, given at Dusit Palace, 4 December 1998.
In Thailand, moderation will be an important principle for achieving the SDG targets such as less wasteful consumption and production patterns (SDG 12), the curbing of fossil fuel usage (SDG 7), and sustainable management of marine (SDG 14) and terrestrial (SDG 15) ecosystems.
Reasonableness refers to thoughtful consideration of the impact that our actions and decisions may have both on others and the world around us. Considering the SDGs, reasonableness has numerous practical applications in global issues of climate change (SDG 13), equality (SDG 10), justice (SDG 16), developing clean energy sources (SDG 7) and reducing pollution (SDG 12).
Prudence is about assessing potential risks, working methodically and achieving a level of competence and self-reliance before proceeding further. It is also about people taking care not to overreach their capabilities. This principle may apply to almost all of the SDGs including health (SDG 3), food (SDG 2), water (SDG 6) and energy security (SDG 7) in particular.
This is how the “SEP for SDGs” concept developed. The SEP emphasizes the value of local wisdom and culture to address localized development challenges and cultivates sustainability mindsets in people on the ground. Significantly, the SEP has been applied to many different areas of life before being used to achieve SDGs. Both SEP and SDGs have been integrated into Thailand’s 20-Year National Strategy Framework and the 12th National Economic and Social Development Plan (2017–2021) including the Thailand 4.0 policy. The plans and budgets of all government agencies have therefore been aligned with SEP and the SDGs.9
The 20-Year National Strategy Framework (2017–2036)
The 20-Year National Strategy Framework released by Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha is crucial to providing Thailand with a clear long-term direction for sustainable development. Referred to as the 6-6-4 plan, it consists of six areas, six primary strategies, and four supporting strategies.
The six areas are: security, competitiveness enhancement, human resource development, social equality, green growth and rebalancing, and public sector development.
The six primary strategies seek to:
- enhance and develop the potential of human capital
- ensure justice and reduce social disparities
- strengthen the economy and enhance competitiveness on a sustainable basis
- promote green growth for sustainable development
- bring about national stability for national development toward prosperity and sustainability
- enhance the efficiency of public sector management and promote good governance.
The four supporting strategies for efficient national development involve infrastructure development and a logistics system; science and technology, research, and innovation; urban, regional, and economic zone development; and international cooperation for development.10
The 12th National Economic and Social Development Plan (2017–2021)
The 12th NESDP was mapped out in line with the national strategy. This plan places an emphasis on socio-economic development derived from the use of knowledge, skill and the application of science, technology, innovation and research and development. It also stresses a balance with environmental sustainability. This plan will continue to focus on the SEP and its three principles of moderation, reasonableness and prudence.11
Thailand 4.0 policy
Thailand 4.0 reflects the integration of SEP’s focus on designing a value-based economy by building on the emerging technology breakthroughs while ensuring environmentally-friendly practices. It has the ultimate goal of pulling Thailand out of the middle-income trap and pushing the country into the high-income range.
The Thailand 4.0 policy will be achieved by reforming Thailand’s existing five industries, or the ‘First S-Curve’, including automotive, electronics, affluent medical and wellness tourism, agriculture and biotechnology, and food. It will also promote five new industries, or the ‘New S-Curve’, including robotics, aviation and logistics, biofuels and biochemicals, the digital industry, and the medical hub, in which Thailand has the potential to succeed.12
Thailand needs to deal effectively with disparities and the imbalance between the environment and society. With the same overall target as the SDGs, the Thailand 4.0 policy is a government tool to gear up the country’s economy and production to become a high-income nation, move toward an inclusive economy and focus on sustainable growth and development. Thailand 4.0 is an economic model that endeavors to change traditional farming to smart farming, traditional SMEs to smart enterprises, traditional services to high-value services, and transform the economy so that it is driven by innovation, creativity, research and development, and green industries.13
National means of implementation for the SDGs
Thailand’s government has formed the National Committee for Sustainable Development (CSD), headed by the Prime Minister. It has 37 members from the public, private academia and civil society, with the Secretary-General of National Economic and Social Development Board (NESDB) as the secretariat.14 The National Committee for Sustainable Development and other policy bodies and frameworks have placed particular emphasis on cooperation between the public and private sectors and civil society organisations based on the partnership for development principle.
However, the implementation structure still has fewer representatives from civil society organisations than many civil society groups anticipated. Only 4 out of 38 CSD members are representatives of civil society. Therefore, the public sector largely determines the processes of CSO involvement and the content of key technical outputs such as roadmaps for each SDG. This has led to complaints that CSOs/NGOs less critical of the government are being invited to contribute to SDG planning, while those groups who are more critical or who are operating at the grassroots, or in remote areas, are excluded.15
The public sector mainly uses the budget that the Government has allocated to agencies for working towards the SDGs. These funds serve as foundations for the government’s integrated action plans in line with the 20-Year National Strategy Framework and the 12th National Economic and Social Development Plan.
The government has created a structure for inter-agency coordination in their efforts to achieve the SDGs. When SDG’s goals, targets and indicators require coordination between at least two agencies and the work is considered as an important issues in accordance with key development policies, national security policies, other key government policies and SEP, agencies can request a strategically integrated budget from the central budget. This provides opportunities for programme implementation to be connected, harmonized and mutually supportive in an efficient, cost-effective and non-duplicative manner. Evidence that this process is actually occurring on a regular basis is currently sparse.16
In 2017–2018 the cabinet also established three new national committees:
- a committee for the implementation of government policies, especially the national reform agenda and implementation of SDGs at a local level. This committee is chaired by Mr. Kobsak Pootrakool, Minister attached to the Prime Minister’s Office
- a committee on building the capacity of local communities, chaired by Mr. Suwaphan Tanyuvardhana, Minister of the Prime Minister’s Office
- a committee on the Sustainable Thai Niyom Project, chaired by the Minister of Interior, on grassroots economic development. This was formed in February 2018.
Local communities and CSOs will have more channels to work with the government sector and will be able to address local agendas.17
In January 2018 the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which is in charge of SDG 17 Partnership for the Goals, initiated an open-ended platform aiming to overcome the limited number of CSO representatives in the official committee and to create more dialogue between government agencies and other stakeholders.18
To address income disparity, since 2017 the government has adopted the public-private partnership approach to community-based economic development. It has also promoted micro-enterprises, especially in rural areas, in cooperation with large-scale companies in 76 provinces around Thailand. The private firms aim to transfer their business expertise to 1,200 local enterprise groups. The expertise being shared covers five areas: business efficiency, diversification, branding, sales and distribution systems and business professionalism.19
February 2018 saw the launch of another policy to improve local livelihoods for the poor, self-sufficiency and democracy. Called the Sustainable Thai Niyom Project, it aims to benefit 83,151 villages/communities.20 These policies tend to promote the roles of local community-based organizations and civil society organizations and generate benefit to them. If these policies achieve their goals, the next step will be how to integrate these specific policies and projects into annual work plans and development strategies.
Many Thai companies have also initiated their own projects to work towards the SDGs. Most companies have to review their corporate social responsibility activities and stop the activities that seem to make little difference. They have to find out how to achieve sustainable development based on the 17 SDGs. The private sector can help Thailand reach the SDGs, including the environmental, social and cultural goals. Some companies have turned either to adjust their production processes or emphasize their core business, so that they can apply to achieve SDGs for their own interest and the prosperity and sustainability of Thailand.21
Monitoring and evaluation
The Thai Government’s roadmap for reaching the SDGs consists of three parts:
- The strategic part will deal with ways to apply SEP to achieve national targets.
- The project part will cover action plans with implementation timeframes.
- The follow-up part can apply key performance indicators of the UN, and the SEP-based indicators that organizations have developed or are developing, in assessing Thailand’s results and showing whether further action is required for success in achieving the 17 SDGs.22
The Government has said it believes the review of the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is not simply a reporting process or an opportunity to exchange good practices and challenges among countries. It is also an opportunity for relevant agencies to understand the current situation and plans as well as raising awareness and promoting understanding of SDGs among public and private agencies, civil society, academia and communities.
At an initial stage of the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Voluntary National Review is an important step for Thailand to take stock of sustainable development efforts. It allows the country to strengthen SDG implementation efforts and build public awareness and encourage broad contributions from diverse sections of Thai society toward the achievement of SDGs.
The Voluntary National Review (VNR) task force comprises the lead agencies working towards the 17 SDGs, as well as the National Statistical Office. The National Statistical Office is working to expedite the implementation by using the country’s official statistics as a centralized database, collecting, compiling and developing additional statistical data and indicators. It is also enhancing the statistical capacity of relevant agencies and personnel to make the database and indicators for SDGs as comprehensive as possible. The VNR is seen as a practical tool and part of an engagement process that should be encouraged.23
The VNR process has now been completed. According to the final 2017 VNR report24 These forums and committees have provided spaces for private businesses, academics and CSOs to engage with the government on issues related to sustainable development and have allowed for coordination to occur between these groups (Thailand VNR, 1-2). The government has also conducted several rounds of stakeholder engagement, consulting with groups such as youth and parliamentarians.
Views on the success of these forums in consulting adequately with relevant stakeholders are mixed. The Thai government reports that stakeholders have been able to make “contributions in accordance with their respective roles and expertise,” while civil society reports have noted that these efforts have been inadequate and ineffective. Some civil society groups have complained that the government’s SDG consultations and implementation plans are elitist or overly insular, resulting in “many minority groups and ordinary people” being overlooked.25
A shadow report to Thailand’s VNR reported both that civil society had not been invited to participate in the VNR process and that “partnerships with CSOs as an equal partner” have yet to occur. Despite this, the report also notes the government is engaging with the private sector, and that the government is engaging with civil society in its efforts to reach some specific SDGs.26
In 2017, Thailand ranked 55th out of 157 countries in an index set up “to enable countries to take stock of where they stood with regards to fulfilling the SDGs”. The country has invested a lot of efforts on reducing poverty (Goal 1) and ensuring access to clean water and sanitation (Goal 6). More meaningful and collaborative actions, however, are still required for the country to achieve significant progress across all the SDGs, see above figure.27
- 1. Inter-Agency and Expert Group on Sustainable Development Indicators. 2016. Final List of Proposed Sustainable Development Goal Indicators. Accessed March, 2018.
- 2. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Thailand. 2017. Sufficiency Economy Philosophy:Thailand’s Path towards Sustainable Development Goals. Accessed April, 2018.
- 3. Ibid.
- 4. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Thailand. 2016. A Practical Approach Toward Sustainable Development. Accessed April, 2018.
- 5. Ibid.
- 6. National Voluntary Presentation (NVP). 2014. Annual Ministerial Review (AMR) at ECOSOC 2014. Accessed April, 2018.
- 7. Ibid.
- 8. Thailand Sustainable Development Foundation. Sufficiency for Sustainability. Accessed June 2018.
- 9. Ibid.
- 10. The Government Public Relations Department. 2016. Thailand’s 20-Year National Strategy and Thailand 4.0 Policy. Accessed April, 2018.
- 11. Ibid.
- 12. Ibid.
- 13. Thailand Business News. 2016. Thailand 4.0, What Do You Need To Know? Accessed April, 2018.
- 14. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Thailand. 2017. Summary of Thailand’s Voluntary National Reviews on the Implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development 2017. Accessed March, 2018. Also review full report here.
- 15. Action for Sustainable Development. Thailand – Civil Society Report. Accessed in June 2018.
- 16. UNDP in Thailand. 2018. Voluntary National Review 2017-Thailand. Accessed April, 2018.
- 17. “Decoding Thailand“. The Post Today, February 16, 2016. Accessed on April 4, 2018.
- 18. Press Release: “Ministry of Foreign Affairs Organizes Civil Society and Government Meetings to Drive Sustainable Development Goal”. Ministry of Foreign Affairs website, February 5, 2018. Accessed April 4, 2018.
- 19. “Prachatai” model reversed the boat. Economy, foundations. Bangkok Business News, July 4, 2011. Accessed on April 4, 2018.
- 20. Ibid.
- 21. Chirayu Isarankun Na Ayuthaya. 2017. Thailand’s Sufficiency Economy Philosophy and the SDGs. Accessed April , 2018.
- 22. Bantoon Setsirote. 2017. Sustainable development for Thailand in the global context. Accessed March, 2018.
- 23. Ibid.
- 24. 2017. Thailand’s Voluntary National Review on the Implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Accessed April, 2018.
- 25. Social Watch. 2017. Spotlight on Sustainable Development 2017 on Monitoring Sustainable Development: The State-Private Sector-People Nexus“. Social Watch. Accessed on June 2018.
- 26. Ibid.
- 27. SDG Index and Dashboards. 2017 SDG Index and Dashboards: Thailand Country Profile. Accessed May, 2018.