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.