You need to understand SDG interactions – here’s why

Written by Måns Nilsson and Martin Visbeck

Friday, 19 May 2017 11:48

SEI 2017 blog t20 youneed

A new interactions framework could be a key to effective SDG implementation by G20 governments.

This month, ICSU presented a first scientific review of how different Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) affect, and are affected by, others. Research teams on food and agriculture, health, oceans and energy dived deep into the knowledge base on how their respective SDGs, and the related targets, interact.

The 2030 Agenda has thrust these policy interactions into the spotlight with its call to implement the 17 SDGs as “an indivisible whole”. UN agencies, NGOs and researchers have begun to think about what this means in practice; but early attempts have rarely gone further than simply identifying whether there is a link between two SDG targets, or roughly characterizing those links as either synergies or trade-offs.

For the ICSU study, we developed a more structured and nuanced framework that aims to meet the needs of policy-makers and facilitate dialogue on interactions. Based on a comprehensive review of the literature, we score the nature of each interaction, from the most negative, “cancelling” (-3), to the most positive, “indivisible” (+3), as well as noting the “direction” the interaction works in. This scoring is based on a seven-point typology presented in Nature last year. Further, we look at what contextual factors might affect the interaction – for example related to geography or policy interventions. Finally, we assess the level of scientific consensus and knowledge about the interaction.

Thus we present not only a framework for assessing and describing interactions in a particular context, but also the beginnings of a generic but science-based library of possible interactions, and the evidence behind them.   

Why this matters to the G20

So why is all this important to G20 policy-makers? Here are six reasons:


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Read the ICSU report A Guide to SDG Interactions: from Science to Implementation (external link to publisher's website)

Read the SEI Working Paper Important Interactions among the Sustainable Development Goals Under Review at HLPF 2017 »

Read Måns Nilsson's blog "Do we need a common knowledge platform on SDG interactions?" »