Promoting policy coherence within the 2030 Agenda framework: externalities, trade-offs and politics

Brand, Alexander / Mark Furness / Niels Keijzer
External Publications (2021)

in: Politics and Governance 9 (1), 108 - 118

Open access

The promotion of Policy Coherence for Sustainable Development is one of the 169 targets of the 2030 Agenda, and considered a key means of implementation. The 2030 Agenda, while noble and necessary to put humanity on a sustainable path, has vastly exacerbated the complexity and ambiguity of development policymaking. This article challenges two assumptions that are common in both policy discussions and associated scholarly debates: First, the technocratic belief that policy coherence is an authentically attainable objective; and second, whether efforts to improve the coherence within and across policies makes achieving the Sustainable Development Goals more likely. We unpack the conventional ‘win-win’ understanding of the policy coherence concept to illustrate that fundamentally incompatible political interests continue to shape global development, and that these cannot be managed away. We argue that heuristic, problem-driven frameworks are needed to promote coherence in settings where these fundamental inconsistencies are likely to persist. Instead of mapping synergies ex-ante, future research and policy debates should focus on navigating political trade-offs and hierarchies while confronting the longer-term goal conflicts that reproduce unsustainable policy choices.

About the authors

Furness, Mark

Political Science


Keijzer, Niels

Social Science


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