While the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) aimed to lift people out of poverty, the SDGs aim to keep them out of poverty, by ensuring that development is both socially and environmentally sustainable. A framework to achieve this must consider the ways that activities in different sectors interact, including their respective pressures on natural resources. A “nexus” approach can help to formulate goals and targets that minimize trade-offs and maximize synergies between sectors, making the SDGs more cost-effective and efficient, reducing the risk that progress towards one goal will undermine progress towards another, and ensuring sustainable resource use.

Water, energy, and food have been identified as priority areas for the SDGs, both in the Rio+20 outcome document and in the outcome document of the United Nations Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals. The paper uses the water-energy-food nexus to illustrate three complementary approaches to identify interactions within the current SDG framework. The first involves examining targets under the proposed sectoral goals (e.g. water, food, energy, agriculture) to identify those that might relate to targets under other goals. The second involves examining how the targets interact, and what potential trade-offs and synergies exist among them. The third identifies possible “nexus targets” – targets that cut across sectors – as entry points for developing an integrated framework beyond water, energy and food security. Examples from Ethiopia, China and the United States illustrate how cross-sectoral interactions play out in different contexts.

Read the article (external link to journal).

Read the Discussion Brief Cross-sectoral integration in the Sustainable Development Goals: a nexus approach.

Read more about SEI’s work on the SDGs.

IRF-logo-smSEI is a member of the IRF2015 – a collaboration of 11 international research institutions providing critical thinking, integrated analysis and awareness-raising for a post-2015 development agenda. This publication contributes thinking to this debate. Further work can be found on www.IRF2015.org and all 11 partner websites.