Executive summary

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are an action plan for people, planet and prosperity. The SDGs represent a shared vision and collective responsibility for the world we all aspire to by 2030. The integrated nature of the SDGs requires governments and key stakeholders to work across sectors, actors, government levels and time frames. It requires breaking out of sectoral silos and strengthening institutions to facilitate coherent, whole-of-government and integrated policies for implementation.

Policy coherence for sustainable development (PCSD) is embodied in SDG 17.14 as a cross-cutting means of implementation. Policy coherence is also needed to ensure that progress achieved in one goal contributes to, rather than undermines other goals. Enhancing PCSD, as called for by SDG17.14, entails considering (i) institutional mechanisms for coherence; (ii) policy interactions; and (iii) policy effects.

The first year of the implementation of the SDGs has shown that countries are working to align national strategies, adapt institutional frameworks and shift policies to achieve the SDGs (Chapter 1). The 22 Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) presented at the HLPF in July 2016 revealed a wide variety of starting points and implementation paths. The initial steps for SDG implementation taken by the nine OECD countries that presented VNRs – Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Korea, Mexico, Norway, Switzerland and Turkey – highlight emerging good practices. There are eight key building blocks for enhancing policy coherence in SDG implementation:

  • Political commitment and leadership – to guide whole-of-government action and translate commitment on the SDGs into concrete and coherent measures at the local, national and international levels.

  • Integrated approaches to implementation – to consider systematically inter-linkages between economic, social and environmental policy areas before making decisions.

  • Intergenerational timeframe – to make informed choices about sustainable development considering the long-term impact of policy decisions on the well-being of future generations.

  • Analyses and assessments of potential policy effects – to provide evidence on the potential negative or positive impacts on the well-being of people in other countries, and inform decision-making.

  • Policy and institutional coordination – to resolve conflicts of interest or inconsistencies between priorities and policies.

  • Local and regional involvement – to deliver the economic, social and environmental transformation needed for achieving the SDGs and ensure that no one is left behind.

  • Stakeholder participation – to make sure that the SDGs are owned by people, diverse actions are aligned, and resources and knowledge for sustainable development are mobilised.

  • Monitoring and reporting – to better understand where there has been progress, why there has or has not been progress, and where further action is needed.

There is no one-size-fits-all formula for ensuring a more integrated and coherent implementation as shown by the 16 countries that contributed to this report (Chapter 2). Some common challenges include: balancing an integrated, cross-sectoral approach with the need for concrete priorities for action; avoiding unintended consequences by identifying potential synergies and trade-offs upstream in the domestic policy making process (global impacts of internal action) while strengthening effective development co-operation (external action); and ensuring an effective involvement of multiple stakeholders and long-term commitments.

Applying a PCSD lens to the key inter-linkages among the six thematic goals to be reviewed by the HLPF in 2017 shows the need for an integrated approach (Chapter 3). Key findings include:

Ending poverty in all its forms and dimensions everywhere (SDG1) is an indispensable requirement for sustainable development. SDG1 is inextricably linked to all other goals. Achieving progress on poverty requires, for example, the successful achievement of SDG2, the attainment of global food security, especially in a context where two-thirds of the world’s poor are dependent on agriculture for their food and livelihoods.

Ending hunger and achieving food security and improved nutrition (SDG2) addresses an essential human need, yet more than 790 million people worldwide remain food insecure. Increasing agricultural productivity is central to ensuring that food will be available and affordable to all. But a large share of the world’s agricultural production is based on the unsustainable exploitation of water, marine and land resources.

Ensuring healthy lives (SDG3) is a key determinant of sustainable development and poverty eradication, and a precursor for well-being. Progress in health is dependent on economic, social and environmental progress in other areas, including SDG1 on eradicating poverty, SDG2 on food security and nutrition, SDG4 on education and SDG6 on clean water and sanitation.

Achieving gender equality (SDG5) is a foundation for prosperity and sustainable development, a prerequisite for the health and wellbeing of families and societies, and a key driver of economic growth. It can generate additional welfare gains and reduce poverty (SDG1) overall as women tend to reinvest their income in improved nutrition, health and education for the whole family.

Infrastructure, industrialisation and innovation (SDG9) are key components of the economic capital for achieving sustainable development. Developing resilient infrastructure is critical for achieving food security (SDG2). Damaged infrastructure – such as roads, bridges, ports, markets, storage sites, electricity distribution and irrigation – may indirectly inhibit agricultural production, processing and market access. It can also contribute to climate change, and prevent sufficient nutritious food from reaching communities that need it.

The ocean (SDG14) provides resources and services to address the economic, social and environmental challenges and commitments embodied in the SDGs. The ocean contributes to a wide range of goals and targets, from poverty eradication (SDG1), food security (SDG2) and climate change (SDG13) to the provision of energy (SDG7), employment creation (SDG8) and improved health (SDG3). Fisheries and aquaculture have a particularly important role to play in achieving the poverty eradication targets in SDG1, as the sector is estimated to support the livelihoods of about 10-12% of the world’s population.

Tracking progress in PCSD can be informed by existing indicators that illustrate interactions between the SDGs (synergies and trade-offs) and policy effects (transboundary and intergenerational) (Chapter 4). Specifically, the PCSD Framework suggests three steps for tracking progress at the national level: (i) map out critical interactions across the 17 SDGs and 169 targets; (ii) prioritise PCSD areas based on the critical interactions identified in the mapping exercise; and (iii) review data availability and identify existing national-level indicators for assessing the interactions and policy effects. Indicators to track progress in PCSD will necessarily vary from country to country depending on their natural attributes, economy, institutional setup, and political and social variables.

Enhancing policy coherence for SDG implementation requires partnerships and the involvement of key stakeholders (Chapter 5). The PCSD Partnership is part of the United Nations Partnerships for Sustainable Development Goals Platform. It brings together stakeholders from around the world to discuss the role of SDG target 17.14 in SDG implementation. They stress:

Poverty eradication plays a major role within the integrated and indivisible framework of the SDGs. Human rights and their universal character constitute one of the cornerstones for SDG1. Official Development Assistance has been the main vector of global poverty reduction efforts in the past. Development policies of the 21st century will need to rely on broader and more innovative forms of financing, more ambitious targets, a more widely shared awareness of global challenges and a new narrative.

Policy makers cannot take strategic decisions without a clear understanding of the complex interactions and feedback (both positive and negative) between the different SDGs. Foresight and simulation can be particularly useful tools in that they shed light on issues of policy coherence and effectiveness ahead of implementation. Monitoring progress in the implementation of SDGs and keeping parties accountable requires not only vigilance, but appropriate analytical tools.

Ensuring greater policy coherence for sustainable development is a responsibility shared across a wide chain of actors, including governments, the private sector, civil society organisations and ordinary citizens. Broad internationally comparable indices can be powerful tools for measuring progress on PCSD and spurring reform.