Consumption is the bottleneck for sustainable development

HERE are some key conflicts or bottlenecks that could hamper achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) objectives for 2030: from ending poverty to improving well-being, gender equality, cities’ resilience or climate action.

This is the result of a new comprehensive analysis by a team of scientists from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK). According to the study shared to Databank, responsible consumption and production seems to be such a bottleneck, as data from the past shows.

“The SDGs aim at tackling complex multidimensional challenges faced by humankind and set the international agenda for 2030. However, so far, little is known about the interactions, correlations and potential conflicts between the set of SDGs,” said lead author Prajal Pradhan.

“We tried to break up the complicated interlinkages into more comprehensible pairs so we could investigate how different SDGs influence each other. It turns out that, in general, synergies outweigh trade-offs for most SDGs and countries. However, one SDG stands out as being in partial conflict with a number of other goals—that is responsible consumption and production,” he pointed out.


Improvements in well-being, economic prosperity, and lifestyles currently still come to a large extent through an increase in consumption and, therefore, with the growing environmental and material footprints. To successfully implement the 2030 development agenda, such conflicts in objectives need to be identified, governed and tackled, the study said.

Adopted in 2015, the SDGs comprise 17 goals and 169 targets, ranging from human well-being to economic prosperity and environmental protection. The UN objectives to transform the world until 2030 are also the frame that member-states are expected to adopt for their agendas and policies for development and sustainability.

The PIK study said: “Identifying synergies and tradeoffs through SDG interactions is central to the design of feasible policies. So far, SDG interactions have mostly been analyzed qualitatively, for few targets or for individual regions of the world.”

Lessons from the past: Data reveals more synergies than trade-offs. “Our study provides the first complete quantification of synergies and trade-offs, as they can be detected in data from the past to the present within and across the SDGs, both at country level and on a global scale,” said coauthor Jürgen Kropp, vice chairman of PIK’s research domain Climate Impacts & Vulnerabilities.

Using a statistical setup applying data from the UN Statistics Division on 122 indicators for more than 200 countries between 1983 and 2016, “we were able to carve out the lessons to be learned from historical data. This is a simple but highly useful approach, as the SDGs may be still new, but the challenges are certainly not,” Kropp added. The results not only reveal possible conflicts between the SDG goals, they also highlight a huge potential for synergies when it comes to the fight against poverty, hunger and for health and well-being. Eliminating poverty and improving public health positively influenced most other SDGs.

For instance, around 3 billion people around the globe live in countries where improvements on health and well-being matched with the provision of clean water and sanitation. Identifying the countries where synergies occur allows for being able to learn from the best practices.

As another example, countries associated with sustainable cities also seem to score well on climate action that indicates a strong potential for synergy. Based on the results of the study, more elaborated concepts can be developed in order to make reliable projections about future fulfillments of SDGs and associated consequences.

“The SDGs represent a holistic and multidimensional perspective on development,” said coauthor Wolfgang Lucht, chairman of PIK’s research domain Earth System Analysis, adding that: “The empirical framework on the evaluation of SDG interactions here presented makes a fundamental contribution to ensuring successful policy implementation of the SDG agenda. Attainment of SDGs is central for the great transformation that is required for overcoming the unsustainable practices visible in the historical data.”

Lucht said, to achieve this, “the SDGs need to act as a system of interacting components that together move the world into a safe and just operating space. Our study shows that the SDGs are much more than just a collection of targets, but a system of synergistic reenforcement. While no single SDG has the power to transform the world alone, the whole set of SDGs together does.”


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BusinessMirror columnist Cecilio T. Arillo, a veteran author-journalist, was educated at the International Academy of Management and Economics (IAME) with a Ph.D. in Management; the Pacific Western University in LA with BSc in Mass Communications and Master’s Degree in Science, Major in Economics; the Harvard Law School-MIT-Tufts University (consortium) on Negotiation, Mediation and Conflict Management; and the Harvard Kennedy School of Government on effective Decision Making and Organizational Change for Senior Executives. He taught undergraduate and MBA interdisciplinary studies at IAME and was president of the Philcoman Council of Management and Research Institute. Arillo is a member of the American Economic Association, the American Sociological Association, American Association for the Advancement of Science, Philconsa and lifetime member of National Press Club.