How Well is Penang Complying with the SDGs?

There are 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) outlined by the UN. Penang Monthly extracts data relevant to some of the SDGs that are most pertinent to Penang, and takes a look at how the state fares.

Social Protection and Incidence of Poverty

Last updated in 2014, Malaysia’s poverty line refers to households with a monthly income of less than or equal to RM940 for Peninsular Malaysia; RM1,160 for Sabah and Labuan; and RM1,040 for Sarawak.1 Penang, however, has set its own state poverty line at RM790.2 With the primary objective of eliminating hardcore poverty, the state introduced the Agenda Ekonomi Saksama (AES) programme in 2009 to provide financial aid to households earning an income below the state poverty line.

Although Penang’s incidence of poverty has significantly declined, it is the only state that recorded an incidence of poverty of 0.1 among the major developed states in Malaysia in 2016 (Table 1). This is mainly attributed to the level of poverty in Seberang Perai South.

Nationally, female-headed households record a higher incidence of poverty compared to their male counterparts, with male- and female-headed households registering 0.3 and 0.4 rates of poverty in 2016 respectively, down from 3.7 and 4.1 in 2009.

Gender Gap in Income Distribution

Among the major developed states and territories, KL had the highest growth rate of 10% annually in median household income followed by Johor and Penang (Figure 1). While Penang experienced a steady growth in its median monthly income from 2007- 2016, half of its households received income less than those households living in other major states in Malaysia. However, Penang recorded a higher rate of growth annually (6.9%) compared to that of Selangor (6.4%) for the same period.

Female-headed households generally made a smaller sum of median income compared to their male-headed cohorts. In 2016 the national gender gap for median household income was 31.6% (Table 2). Penang in particular stood at a high rate of gender discrepancy across all the states in Malaysia. While Putrajaya had the largest gender gap, with male-headed households earning nearly 40% more than female-headed households followed by Kedah (30.3%), Labuan happened to have the smallest gender gap at 8.5%, followed by Pahang (10.6%).

With male-headed households earning nearly a quarter more than female-headed households on average, this shows that substantial efforts are still needed to reduce income inequality between genders.

Penang’s income distribution is highly skewed towards the north-east, with 37% of total households residing in this district. The Top 20% (T20) households in the district, which accounted for 9.5% of total households, on the other hand holds 22.0% of the state’s overall income share. While the income share of all T20 households is higher than its corresponding proportion of households, the reverse is observed for Bottom 40% (B40) households. Meanwhile, Middle 40% (M40) households have an income share proportionate to percentage of households.

Low Level of Youth Unemployment

To promote a sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, a low rate of unemployment among youths aged 15-24 years is important to meet the needs of the job market. In Malaysia, most states achieved full employment status in 2016– with an unemployment rate of not more than 4% – except Terengganu, Sabah and Labuan (Table 3). Despite the fact that many states experienced an increase in overall unemployment rate between 2010 and 2016– including Johor, Kelantan, Perlis, Sabah, KL and Labuan – the situation of youth unemployment is noticeably critical with many states accounting for more than threefold that of the overall unemployment rate except in Penang, Selangor and Sabah. Penang stood at the second lowest rate of youth unemployment in Malaysia, trailing behind Melaka (5.5% vs 2.8%).

Reduction of Waste Generation

The efficient management of our natural resources and the way we dispose waste and pollutants are important to achieve Goal 12: Responsible Consumption and Production. One of the targets to achieve this goal is to significantly reduce waste generation through prevention, reduction, recycling and reuse by the year 2030. Table 4 indicates the total waste generation and recycling rate in Penang. From 2014 to 2017, the growth rate of total solid waste disposal remained steady. While the growth rate of total waste generation in 2017 decreased by about 0.4 percentage point as compared to 2016, its overall recycling rate increased by 1.6 percentage point over the same period.

Climate Change

Climate change is already affecting Malaysia and Penang. Rainfall and temperature are major parameters that determine the climatic conditions of a region. As presented in Figure 3, from 1997 to 2017, the average temperature in Penang increased by about 0.09˚C per year, with the mainland experiencing higher average temperatures than the island. Growing industrialisation and the increasing use of fossil fuels are affecting regional and global temperatures, which in turn influence overall rainfall patterns. In fact, in a warmer climate, heavy rainfall may increase; this may cause a higher risk of floods and/or longer dry spells.

Figure 4 indicates the long-term variation in rainfall trends in Penang. On average, an annual rainfall of 2,633 mm was recorded for Penang in 2017 – 253.2 mm more than that of 2016.

1Ministry of Housing and Local Government (n.d.). Program Pembasmian Kemiskinan Bandar. Hardcore poverty line is established as RM580 for Peninsular Malaysia, RM690 for Sabah and Labuan, and RM700 for Sarawak.
2State Government of Penang (n.d.). Allocation by the state government. Retrieved from
3The income thresholds for household groups are readjusted and approximated in accordance to the categorisation of monthly gross income class of household incomes, as published by the Department of Statistics Malaysia.

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