The United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was adopted in September 2015. It is underpinned by 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 targets. National policymakers now face the challenge of implementing this indivisible agenda and achieving progress across the economic, social, and environmental dimensions of sustainable development worldwide. As the process moves towards implementation, there is a need to address the scope and systemic nature of the 2030 Agenda and the urgency of the challenges. This requires a wide range of tools and science-based analysis to navigate that complexity and realize the ambition.

This report explores the nature of interlinkages between the SDGs. It is based on the premise that a science-informed analysis of interactions across SDG domains – which is currently lacking – can support more coherent and effective decision-making, and better facilitate follow-up and monitoring of progress. Understanding possible trade-offs as well as synergistic relations between the different SDGs is crucial for achieving long-lasting sustainable development outcomes. A key objective of the scoring approach described here is to stimulate more science-policy dialogue on the importance of interactions, to provide a starting point for policymakers and other stakeholders to set their priorities and implementation strategies, and to engage the policy community in further knowledge developments in this field.

Underlying Principles

All SDGs interact with one another – by design, they are an integrated set of global priorities and objectives that are fundamentally interdependent. Understanding the range of positive and negative interactions among SDGs is key to unlocking their full potential at any scale, as well as to ensuring that progress made in some areas is not made at the expense of progress in others. The nature, strengths, and potential impact of these interactions are largely context-specific and depend on the policy options and strategies chosen to pursue them. SDG 16 (good governance) and SDG 17 (means of implementation) are key to turning the potential for synergies into reality, although they are not always specifically highlighted as such throughout the report. For many, if not all, goals, having in place effective governance systems, institutions, partnerships, and intellectual and financial resources is key to an effective, efficient, and coherent approach to implementation.

Policymakers, practitioners, and scientists working at the global, regional, national, and local levels on implementing or supporting the implementation of the SDGs are the intended audience for this report.

Key Findings

The four SDGs analyzed in detail in this report (SDG 2, SDG 3, SDG 7, SDG 14) are mostly synergistic with the other SDGs. Using a 7-point scale, a team of scientists evaluated the key target-level interactions between an ‘entry goal’ and all other goals, and attributed a score to these interactions based on their expert judgment and as justified through the scientific literature. The score most often allocated is +2 (‘reinforcing’). The assessment identified 316 target-level interactions overall, of which 238 are positive, 66 are negative, and 12 are neutral. This analysis found no fundamental incompatibilities between goals (i.e., where one target as defined in the 2030 Agenda would make it impossible to achieve another). However, it did identify a set of potential constraints and conditionalities that require coordinated policy interventions to shelter the most vulnerable groups, promote equitable access to services and development opportunities, and manage competing demands over natural resources to support economic and social development within environmental limits.

The process of systematically identifying and scoring interactions across the 17 SDGs using a common terminology is very valuable. It allows broad multi-disciplinary and multi-sectoral conversations, makes it possible to synthesize knowledge and to scope knowledge needs, and provides rational and concrete focal points (clusters of targets that need to be addressed together) for an integrated approach to implementation and monitoring.

This approach provides a basis for a science-policy dialogue on translating integrated science for the achievement of the SDGs. As a tool for policy coherence, it provides an understanding of the conflicts and synergies to be managed across government departments and sectors, understanding where the emphasis should be put for efficient and effective action, and identifies who needs to be brought to the table to achieve collective impacts across multiple interacting policy domains. There is clearly no one-size-fits-all approach to understanding target interactions, and building on this work will require a commitment to continuous iteration and improvement.



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