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Achieving the SDGs and ‘leaving no one behind': maximising synergies and mitigating trade-offs

Working papers

Written by Ambassador David Donoghue, Amina Khan

Working papers

The integrated nature of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development poses special challenges for policy-makers worldwide. Interactions across the Agenda’s Goals and targets can have positive or negative effects on sustainable development and the realisation of the Agenda. These are known as ‘synergies’ and ‘trade-offs’.

This paper aims to help governments and key stakeholders as they face up to these challenges. It looks at the implications of synergies and trade-offs for achieving the Agenda, in particular, the commitment to ‘leave no one behind’ and to ‘endeavour to reach the furthest behind first’. It also provides examples from a range of countries of synergies being successfully exploited and of trade-offs being addressed – albeit with varying degrees of success.

Key messages

  • The transformative potential of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will not be realised unless the interactions between them – both synergies and trade-offs – are grasped and acted upon.
  • Governments risk taking decisions in particular areas which might have negative impacts on the prospects for progress in other areas; mitigating action will be needed to keep each country in overall terms on track for implementation of the SDGs.
  • The High Level Political Forum at summit level in September 2019 will be an important moment for leaders to take stock of progress made so far and an opportunity to provide guidance on critical aspects of implementation. 
Ambassador David Donoghue and Amina Khan