System‑level consequences of synergies and trade‑offs between SDGs: quantitative analysis of interlinkage networks at country level

In Sustainability Science
Volume (Issue): Special Feature on Synergies and Trade-offs between Sustainable Development Goals and Targets
Peer-reviewed Article

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) present a complex system of 17 goals and 169 individual targets whose interactions can be described in terms of co-benefits and trade-offs between policy actions. We analyse in detail target-by-target interlinkage networks established by the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES) SDG Interlinkages Tool. We discuss two quantitative measures of network structure; the leading eigenvector of the interlinkage networks (‘eigencentrality’) and a notion of hierarchy within the network motivated by the concept of trophic levels for species in food webs. We use three interlinkage matrices generated by IGES: the framework matrix which provides a generic network model of the interlinkages at the target level, and two country-specific matrices for Bangladesh and Indonesia that combine SDG indicator data with the generic framework matrix. Our results echo, and are confirmed by, similar work at the level of whole SDGs that has shown that SDGs 1–3 (ending poverty, and providing food security and healthcare) are much more likely to be achieved than the environmentally- related SDGs 13–15 concerned with climate action, life on land and life below water. Our results here provide a refinement in terms of specific targets within each of these SDGs. We find that not all targets within SDGs 1–3 are equally well-supported, and not all targets within SDGs 13–15 are equally at risk of not being achieved. Finally, we point to the recurring issue of data gaps that hinders our quantitative analysis, in particular for SDGs 5 (gender equality) and 13 (climate action) where the huge gaps in indicator data that mean the true nature of the interlinkages and importance of these two SDGs are not fully recognised.