Sustainable Development Goals

Uncovering interlinkages in the network of SDGs

 The 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

In 2015, the world’s governments met to mark the adoption of a set of global goals for sustainable development, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs can be seen as following up on previous international efforts on how humans can continue to prosper on the planet while maintaining a flourishing and safe environment. In the UN system this effort dates back to the Stockholm Convention on the Human Environment of 1972 and, most recently, the SDGs’ immediate predecessor the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Here I conduct a keyword-based network analysis of target to target linkages between 126 SDG targets. I identify and map keywords under content categories such as target challenges, subjects, actions, derived properties, instruments and conditionalities. I use these keywords to construct and compare a number of target and goals based networks with regard to structure, including connectivity, sub-networks and unifying keywords.

 Target-level keyword network of the SDGs highlighting four common keywords.

Target-level keyword network of the SDGs highlighting four common keywords.

The analysis conducted in this paper, is to my knowledge the most detailed formal network analysis of the Sustainable Development Goals as a system of targets. While there is room to continue to advance application of network analysis to the SDGs, e.g. by including means of implementation targets, incorporating thesauruses to identify synonyms and implement a hierarchical analysis of keywords, the analysis provides a useful starting point for these more advanced applications and, more importantly, achieves a concise synthesis and helpful visualisations of the interconnections among more than 100 of the SDG targets. The present analysis yields multiple novel insights to the SDGs a system of targets.

  • First and foremost, I show that connections between targets and goals become increasingly evident when targets are characterized, not only by the topical challenges they address (which has dominated previous approaches), but also by the subjects they address and the nature of the actions they propose.

  • Secondly and more specifically, this multifaceted analysis increases connections across general goal themes, and thus helps avoid treating the SDGs as a fragmented agenda of disparate social, economic, environmental and resource topics.

  • Third, the analysis identifies the central targets that are connected to targets under other goals and therefore require coordination with other planned actions.

  • Fourth and finally, the analysis identifies a number of keyword topics that if addressed successfully across targets will help achieve a high proportion of the SDGs, such as issues of access, women, resources and finance.