There’s a saying in German that captures the implementation challenge: Papier ist geduldig (“paper is patient” or “you can write what you like on paper”). The Paris Agreement and the 2030 Agenda are there for all to see, reminding us of commitments and timetables. But the process of going from a Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) to climate action is no easy journey. A detailed look at the NDCs reveals that the vast majority of targets set out are not quantifiable. What’s more, NDCs are usually not connected to national policy plans on, for example, energy. The same largely goes for the SDGs.

This lack of connection has important implications for the coherence of policies. For example, if an NDC states that there will be increased electricity production from bioenergy, conflicts of interest will likely arise if at the same time, policies aim to increase agricultural outputs to improve food security.

Timing matters

The IPCC Special Report on 1.5°C provides the scientific imperative for urgent and far-reaching climate action. The UNEP Emission Gap report shows that the climate action currently promised by countries is falling short of what is needed to deliver the Paris Agreement. As countries are set to submit more ambitious NDCs by 2020, now is a good time to reflect on how to scale up climate action, SDG 13, in the wider context of the 2030 Agenda.

It is also time to take stock of progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals to be achieved by 2030. As we are well into the fourth year of SDG implementation, it is not surprising to see that the momentum towards the 2030 Agenda is waning in some places, particularly when governments change and seemingly more pressing policy issues are placed at the top of the agenda.

Now is the moment to start remove obstacles to policies coherently working towards both the Paris Agreement and the 2030 Agenda.

Visualization enables deeper insights 

Enabling policy-makers from the local to the regional and the national level to understand the positive and negative interactions is an important first step towards coherent policies giving authorities a sense of achievement as they are increasing climate action while also striving to achieve the SDGs in their entirety.

Take the NDC-SDG connections tool SEI has developed together with DIE: It examines the activities mentioned in countries’ NDCs and connects them to the SDGs. The tool lets users explore how climate action activities are mainly relevant to SDGs in the sphere of economy and environment, like land-use, water, and energy. However, connections with more “social” SDGs like those on gender equality or education also become visible.

See how you can explore synergies using the NDC-SDG Connections tool. Video: DIEnewsflash / Youtube

A practical toolkit to factor in trade-offs

While visualizing connections is the first step to achieve coherent policies working towards climate action and the SDGs as a whole, the second step is to factor in trade-offs. That’s where the SDG Interactions Framework comes in.

It uses a seven-point scale to score SDG interactions; the most positive interactions are scored as +3, while the most negative are -3. A new tool we have been piloting allows users to enter the scores digitally into an online matrix leading to a quick visualization of the results. The scoring is then complemented by a network analysis that can determine which interactions garner the most positive and negative results. This allows researchers to understand the key topics that link to each other and to identify the institutions and actors that could work together to maximize co-benefits in their efforts.

Image showing digital interface to score SDG interactions

The image shows the digital interface where stakeholders can score SDG interactions. This interface is accessed on a website and lets participants answer questions to score each SDG interaction by assessing the potential impacts, progress on one target would have on another. The Figure shows the matrix produced in the workshop in Medellín, Colombia. Source: SEI, 2018.

Pilots have been carried out in Mongolia, Sri Lanka, and in Colombia. While policy focus areas differ across these countries, the objective is identical: to enable integrated policymaking and cost-effective implementation of priority SDGs by authorities at all levels of government.

“There are 425 organizations and 52 ministries working on the 2030 Agenda in Sri Lanka. Working with SEI to apply the framework helps to make SDG implementation effective. It provides a systematic approach to prioritizing targets and analysing how policies can complement one another in the implementation process.”

— Dr Yalegama, Ministry of Sustainable Development and Wildlife, Sri Lanka

Upgrading the toolbox

A range of practical tools and methods also developed by SEI let users explore cross-sectoral solutions. The WEAP platform can be used to explore water management options, and can account for climate change and social factors such as gender. The LEAP platform is used in nearly 190 countries for long-term energy planning, with at least 37 using LEAP to help develop their NDCs in 2015.

Our latest effort to support on-the-ground implementation is the Integrated Benefits Calculator (LEAP-IBC), which gives implementation teams the ability to quantify climate and health benefits of different energy options. For example, LEAP-IBC can quantify the number of premature deaths that could be avoided through reducing emissions.

In Ghana, use of the LEAP-IBC has resulted in setting up a soot-free bus system. By connecting climate, transport and health LEAP-IBC reached beyond the agenda of the transport ministry to include the health ministry. This built a critical mass of policy and resources for change. COP25 host country Chile also uses LEAP-IBC for integrated approaches to address both air pollution and climate change.


Skyline of Santiago de Chile, where COP25 will be held.

Skyline of Santiago de Chile, where COP25 will be held. Photo: Unsplash / Pablo García Saldana

Spreading use of methods to other actors

The use of these tools is not limited to governments and public institutions. They can be adapted also to businesses that see work towards the SDGs as an opportunity. Sweden’s steel industry is now analysing how decisions about investments affect the conditions for achieving all the goals of the 2030 Agenda and is developing a 2030 Agenda Compass to guide strategic decision-making.

Learning from each other and institutionalizing good practice is what is needed to deliver on the targets set forth in the Paris Agreement and 2030 Agenda. In conjunction with policy tools that demonstrate how actors on all levels and across all sectors can gain from having high levels of ambition, this will enable all of us to achieve the goals which we, the global community, have set for ourselves. Let’s not test the patience of the paper on which we wrote our goals.