Policy: Map the interactions between Sustainable Development Goals

Måns Nilsson, Dave Griggs & Martin Visbeck Nature News, 2017; Read full article online

An article published in Nature proposes a framework for identifying linkages between targets of various sustainable development goals (SDGs). The authors argue that tackling the SDGs separately is an approach that may lead to detrimental outcomes. Instead, decision-makers should undertake mutually reinforcing actions and minimise trade-offs to enable the SDGs to deliver on their potential.

For example, educational efforts for girls (goal 4) in southern Africa would enhance maternal health outcomes (part of goal 3), and contribute to poverty eradication (goal 1), gender equality (goal 5) and economic growth (goal 8) locally. Måns Nilsson, Dave Griggs & Martin Visbeck, Nature News

Interaction and ‘policy coherence’ are written into the targets, but many policymakers and planners operate in silos, with different ministries handling energy, agriculture, education and health with no overlap. The authors argue that in order to make coherent policies and strategies, policymakers need a rubric for thinking systematically in order to identify quickly those groups that could become their allies and those with whom they will be negotiating. They also need up-to-date empirical knowledge on how the goals and interventions of one sector affect another.

This article presents a proposed method for rating relationships between the SDG targets to highlight priorities for integrated policy. There are four main considerations when applying the scale:

  1. Is the interaction reversible or not? For example, failing on education (goal 4) could irreversibly damage social inclusion (goal 8).
  2. Does the interaction go in both directions? For example, providing energy to people's homes benefits education, but improving education does not directly provide energy.
  3. Does an action on one goal have a large or small impact on another? Negative interactions can be tolerable if they are weak, such as the constraints that land resources might put on the development of transport infrastructure.
  4. How certain or uncertain is the interaction? Is there evidence that it will definitely happen or is it only possible?

The conceptual framework is an important starting point for building an evidence base to characterise the SDG interactions in specific local, national or regional contexts.

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