We need to map out how the global goals in Agenda 2030 are related

When decision-makers invest in schooling for girls, it affects gender equality and the level of education as well as poverty and health. In order to better implement the global goals in Agenda 2030, we therefore need to map out how the different goals are connected to each other, write Måns Nilsson and Annie Sturesson at the research institute SEI.

The world leaders agreed in 2015 on a new common development agenda, Agenda 2030 with 17 global goals (SDGs). In many countries, intensive planning work is underway to be able to go from word to deed in the implementation of the goals.

The the Swedish government has the ambition that Sweden will be a leader in the implementation of Agenda 2030 - both at home and internationally. In July 2017 reported Sweden and 42 other countries their national voluntary commitments on Agenda 2030 to UN High Level Political Forum 2017 on sustainable development. During the meeting, it became clear that the countries of the world are facing major challenges in implementing the agenda. In theory, everything is clear - the goals are integrated and indivisible and need to be implemented jointly as a unified agenda. In practice, however, it is more difficult.

Competing for limited resources

Firstly, the goals are not only very ambitious, they also compete for limited resources. Decision-makers are faced with difficult decisions and trade-offs about which goals to prioritize. These trade-offs are particularly difficult in developing countries with pressing social needs and at the same time limited capacity and scarce resources.

Secondly, the goals are linked in different ways. While some goals are dependent on others, other goals counteract each other. Expansion of hydropower for energy supply can affect water flows and risk limiting water supply to agriculture - and thus contribute to increased food security.

Another challenge is that the sub-goals concern policy areas that are divided between several ministries and authorities. Ministries that deal with energy, agriculture or health issues often work separately from each other. Forum for collaboration is few, despite the fact that the conditions for a ministry to achieve an intermediate goal are often affected by how other ministries follow up their respective areas of responsibility.

Systematic mapping of the goals is required

The challenges are thus great on both a political and technical level. In order for decision-makers to be able to make progress in Agenda 2030, they must have the tools to be able to identify and prioritize sub-goals and areas for strategic collaborations. This requires a systematic mapping of links between sub-goals that illuminate them at a more detailed sector level as well as at a more comprehensive level.

How the goals relate to each other depends on the context, for example a country's access to natural resources and technology, governance and political vision for sustainable development. A helicopter perspective is required to see how a policy change in one area affects other areas. At present, there are large knowledge gaps about these connections, and the knowledge that is available is seldom available to decision-makers. To assist decision-makers in their deliberations, the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) together with the International Council for Science (ICSU) has developed a matrix for a systematic analysis of how the global goals are connected.

In a new research article shows researchers at SEI how the interaction analysis can be done for a country. In the study, which was done with Sweden as an example, 34 of the total 144 sub-goals were selected, which resulted in no less than 1 interactions (122 times 34). Based on the question "How would progress in sub-goal y affect sub-goal x" the interactions were valued according to a specific classification.

The classification makes it possible to systematically identify which sub-goals have the greatest positive or negative influence on other sub-goals, and also how clusters of goals strengthen each other and benefit from in-depth collaboration. The sub-goals that stand out with particularly many positive connections for Sweden are efficient institutions, efficient use of resources and sustainable consumption and production. There are only a few sub-goals that have negative connections and thus can counteract each other. One example is how increased protection of water resources risks counteracting the goals of renewable energy.

New matrix to be tested in Asia

In the autumn of 2017, SEI in a project with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) will apply the matrix in a pilot project in Asia, probably with the government of Sri Lanka. The interaction between the sub-goals will be affected by the methods and technologies that the Government of Sri Lanka chooses to apply in order to achieve progress in the various sub-goals.

Like many other countries in Asia, Sri Lanka is at an important crossroads in terms of energy supply. If decision-makers choose to use coal instead of renewable energy to achieve goal 7 of increased access to energy, this risks contributing to Climate change (Objective 13), ocean acidification (Objective 14) and air pollution and deteriorating health (Objective 3). In other cases, intermediate goals reinforce each other. If the government chooses to invest specifically in education for girls, this will in all probability not only improve gender equality (goal 5) and maternal health care (goal 3), but also contribute to poverty reduction (goal 1) and economic development (goal 8).

In order for countries, Sri Lanka as well as Sweden, to be able to move forward in the implementation of Agenda 2030 in its entirety, we need to strengthen the link between research analyzes and policy decisions. Unpleasant surprises that progress in certain sub-goals is at the expense of other areas can be avoided through well-informed decision-making. But just as important as the actual knowledge about these connections is to create processes for dialogue and consensus between ministries that in most countries rarely talk to each other. When different sectors see how they depend on each other to implement Agenda 2030, it can lead to new collaborations.

Måns Nilsson
Annie Stursson

This is a debate article. The author is responsible for analysis and opinions in the text.

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