Discussion Paper

Taking an Integrated Approach to the SDGs: A Survey and Synthesis


The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were designed to be “integrated and indivisible, balanc[ing] the three dimensions of sustainable development." The growing need for integration has given rise to a number of tools and research that can help capture synergies and avoid trade-offs across goals and targets. These include tools that employ network analysis to illustrate interlinkages across a wide range of goal and target areas to water-food-energy nexus, urban systems, and co-benefits approaches that look at integration across a narrower set of issues. But, while these tools and approaches offer useful support for decision making, concrete examples of the actual practice of integration remain few and far between. Part of the explanation for the lack of practical applications is that there have been few attempts to discuss how the larger network analysis (that illustrates interlinkages across a wide range of goal and target areas) and the narrower water-food-energy nexus, urban systems and co-benefits approaches relate to each other. For each of the above approaches this paper contributes to the discussion by identifying: 1) which SDGs it focuses upon; 2) what are its key features; and 3) what are the main opportunities and challenges to using said approach as a basis for decisions in applied contexts. The paper concludes with a review of the possible combinations and complementarities between these approaches. That synthesis can help operationalize an integrated approach to support the implementation of the SDGs moving forward.

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