How does policy coherence shape effectiveness and inequality? Implications for sustainable development and the 2030 Agenda

Browne, Katherine / Adis Dzebo / Gabriela Iacobuţă / Alexia Faus Onbargi / Zoha Shawoo / Ines Dombrowsky / Mathias Fridahl / Sara Gottenhuber / Åsa Persson
External Publications (2023)

in: Sustainable Development 31 (5), 3161-3174

Open access

During the formulation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, many promoted policy coherence as a key tool to ensure achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in a way that “leaves no one behind.” Their argument assumed that coherent policymaking contributes to more effective policies and supports over-arching efforts to reduce inequality. As the 2030 Agenda reaches the halfway point, however, countries are falling short on many SDGs, particularly SDG 10 (reduce inequality). This study revisits the basic assumptions about policy coherence underpinning the SDGs. We systematically screened the peer-reviewed literature to identify 40 studies that provide evidence about whether coherent policymaking contributes to more effective outcomes and helps to reduce inequality. We find that coherent policymaking did not help reduce inequality in a majority of cases and made it worse in several. Our findings challenge the narrative that coherence is a necessary pre-condition for progress on the SDGs for all people.

About the authors

Dombrowsky, Ines



Iacobuta, Gabriela

Climate and sustainable development policy


Dzebo, Adis

Political Scientist

Faus Onbargi, Alexia

Political Science

Faus Onbargi

Further experts

Balasubramanian, Pooja

Social Economics 

Baumann, Max-Otto

Political Science 

Brüntrup, Michael

Agricultural Economy 

Burchi, Francesco

Development Economy 

Dick, Eva

Sociologist and Spatial Planner 

Götze, Jacqueline

Political Scientist 

Hackenesch, Christine

Political Science 

Hilbrich, Sören


Janus, Heiner

Political Science 

Keijzer, Niels

Social Science 

Koch, Svea

Social Science 

Malerba, Daniele


Mathis, Okka Lou

Political Scientist 

Mchowa, Chifundo

Development Economics 

Mudimu, George Tonderai

Agricultural policy economics 

Schwachula, Anna


Srigiri, Srinivasa Reddy

Agricultural Economist 

Vogel, Johanna

International Cultural Economy 

von Haaren, Paula

Development Economics 

Wehrmann, Dorothea