Why target 17.14 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is the most important target of all

This article is cross-posted from the Food Climate Research Network.

In September 2015 the UN General Assembly adopted a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These goals are the successor to the Millennium Development Goals which ran from 2000 to 2015 as the world’s framework for development. The designers of the SDGs clearly had something different in mind to the MDGs. There are a lot more of them – 17 SDGs relative to 8 MDGs, and 169 targets relative to 18; they are global in scope – unlike the focus of the MDGs on the developing world only; and they are concerned with global public goods, not just nationally defined problems.

There has been much debate about the value-added of this new approach. Are there too many? Are they demotivatingly ambitious?

For me, the proof that the “Global Goals” is the right approach will be in the implementation.  Will the policy makers and other powerful actors take an integrated, coherent approach across the SDGs? Or will they – as has been argued happened for the MDGs – implement them as if they are separate problems in separate boxes requiring different sets of actions?

For when we look closely at the SDGs it becomes pretty evident straight off that they are all interlinked. Let’s take the area I am most familiar with: nutrition. Goal 2 to “End Hunger” includes the (highly ambitious) target to “End all forms of malnutrition” by 2030. As we describe in the Global Nutrition Report(link is external), published on September 15th, this nutrition Goal is inextricably linked with the other goals. It is well established that good health is needed to reduce undernutrition. That’s Goal 3. We know educated people adopt healthier nutrition behaviours. That’s Goal 4. One of the most important pieces of evidence to emerge on nutrition in the 20th Century was that empowering women is a crucial factor. That’s Goal 4.  Sustainable production and consumption is necessary to have enough food. That’s Goal 12. And we know there are links between climate change and nutrition. That’ll be Goal 13.

Of course this means that in return, ending malnutrition will contribute to these Goals too. Healthier diets, for example, can contribute towards climate change mitigation. Better nourished girls have better educational outcomes. It’s more sustainable if people don’t consume too much.

The tremendous possibility of taking an integrated approach to the SDGs is why for me the most important aspect of the SDGs is a little phrase hidden away in Goal 17 on Strengthening Means of Implementation. It is Target 17.14: “Enhance policy coherence for sustainable development.” In other words: accept the reality that everything is connected with everything else and figure out how to solve problems from there. Far better that than try to fix problems on their own and then wonder why they are so hard to fix.

Of course, this is not new: MDG 8 was also supposed to promote policy coherence. But as the OECD’s Policy Coherence for Development unit has pointed out(link is external), times are different now. It’s a multipolar, interconnected world. If we don’t understand problems as common challenges we simply won’t solve them.

Nutrition is a classic collective challenge that needs policy coherence.  This is one of the main messages of the Global Nutrition Report 2015: we need coherence between different forms of malnutrition, between funding and planning and between all the multiple sectors that affect it. And in particular, we need coherence with food systems. Without that, the inadequate progress to address malnutrition in all its forms – only 21 countries of the 193 we monitor are on course to meet three or more of eight indicators – will remain just that: woefully inadequate.

So my question to the FCRN member taking this series forward is:

What are some specific actions we can take to increase coherence between policies designed to enhance nutrition and those designed to promote sustainability? And what are the governance mechanisms we need to implement them?