Policy integration: don’t break down those silos just yet

Åsa Persson • 22-06-2016
Policy integration: don’t break down those silos just yet

Basically, policy integration means a way of organizing policy processes that resolves conflicts and inconsistencies between diverse policy goals, and exploits synergies. Agenda 2030, with its set of deeply interlinked Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), has only stoked interest in policy integration.

As a social scientist, I have been studying this phenomenon for some time, most recently as part of a taskforce on the concept of “environmental policy integration” convened by the international research project Earth System Governance. In preparing to address theIntegration Segment of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) last month, to give a scientific perspective on policy integration in relation to Agenda 2030, I had a chance to reflect on my own views. I realized that while I do believe in the search for “rational” integrated policy solutions, and value the progress made, I can’t help thinking we’re in danger of getting carried away. Before “break the silos” becomes the Eleventh Commandment, a few things are worth remembering.

Read the complete text at

Åsa Persson is Senior Research Fellow at the Stockholm Environment Institute and a Research Fellow of the Earth System Governance Project.

Tags: Earth System Governance Project,national policy-making,policy integration

Briefing Note on SDSN Symposium and Workshop: on the Road to 2030 - Global and National Perspectives on Implementation of the SDGS

IISD • 08-03-2016
Briefing Note on SDSN Symposium and Workshop: on the Road to 2030 - Global and National Perspectives on Implementation of the SDGS

Originally published by the IISD POST2015 Bulletin, Friday, 4 March 2016

The symposium on Global and National Perspectives on Implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) convened on the morning of 29 February 2016, followed by a workshop on National Perspectives on Implementation of the SDGs that met from 29 February – 1 March 2016. The two events took place at Hotel Bangi-Putrajaya in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Following the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development by the UN General Assembly in September 2015, UN agencies, Member States and partners have begun to focus their attention on implementation of the SDGs. Dialogues at the two events in Malaysia engaged participants from the region and beyond in sharing their perspectives on how the global goals can be translated into national contexts and effectively implemented, taking into account national priorities, capabilities and circumstances. The half-day symposium discussed national implementation of the SDGs and highlighted the role of science, technology and innovation in achieving the SDGs. The one-and-a-half-day workshop discussed national preparedness for delivery of the SDGs, stakeholders’ roles, follow-up and review, and interlinkages among the national, regional and global levels of implementation.

The Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) and the UN University Institute for the Advanced Study of Sustainability (UNU-IAS) jointly organized the events. Supporting partners included: the Malaysian Industry-Government Group for High Technology (MIGHT); the Office of the Science Advisor; the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS); University Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) and LESTARI; the Keio Research Institute; and the Project On Sustainability Transformation beyond 2015 (S-11 project of the Environment Research and Technology Development Fund, or POST2015). This report summarizes the proceedings of the symposium and workshop.


Zakri Abdul Hamid, Science Advisor to the Prime Minister of Malaysia and Chair of SDSN Malaysia Chapter, welcomed participants to the half-day symposium on Monday morning. He noted that the adoption of the SDGs in 2015 represents one of the most important global milestones since the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development, and that after a long period of agenda setting, the focus now turns toward implementation.

Zakri emphasized the importance of: national-level action to drive forward the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development; translating the global agenda to the national context; and bridging science with high-level policy discussions. Highlighting the conclusion of the Intergovernmental Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) the previous day, he said the adoption of the Panel’s first product, on pollinators and food production, showed the importance of science in providing relevant information in assessing real-life impacts, as well as providing policy response options. He highlighted the Government of Malaysia’s Science to Action initiative, which aims to elevate the role of science to help inform governance, and he called on the scientific community to heed the call to provide relevant, credible and legitimate science.

Mazlin Mokhtar, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, University Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM), stressed that research must bring meaningful and impactful results. He highlighted examples of Malaysia’s cooperation with the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), including the establishment of Langkawi Island as part of a network of Global GeoParks, the gazetting of Lake Cini as a biosphere reserve, and the receipt of a grant for managing the Langat River Basin under the UNESCO International Hydrological Programme (IHP). He suggested that participants should consider how knowledgeable people in business and industry can be persuaded to step forward and share their knowledge.


K. Yogeesvaran, Economic Planning Unit (EPU), Malaysia, said that the shaping of the 2030 Agenda had elicited an unprecedented level of involvement from UN Member States, civil society and other stakeholders. He noted that each government will decide how to incorporate the SDG targets in national policies and actions.

Yogeesvaran highlighted that the three pillars of the Eleventh Malaysia Plan 2016-2020 – high income, inclusiveness, and sustainability – are analogous to the three dimensions of sustainability in the SDGs. He outlined many aspects of the Plan, including raising household incomes of the lowest-earning 40% of the population, promoting balanced geographic growth across rural and urban areas, focusing on vulnerable segments of the population, providing universal access to quality health care, and ensuring compliance with minimum wage levels. He also highlighted initiatives to: create an enabling environment for green growth; conserve and increase the population of endangered species; strengthen disaster risk management; reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40% from 2005 levels; achieve a rate of 20% household recycling by 2020; and gazette 10% of coastal and marine areas as protected areas.

He noted current efforts to establish a national institutional and governance structure for the 2030 Agenda, including a high-level steering committee and SDG roadmap for Malaysia, which will include formulating national indicators, establishing a database and Internet portal, and implementing a framework for strategic communications.


PRESENTATION: Norichika Kanie, UNU-IAS and Keio University, compared the SDGs with rules-based multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs). He observed that the 2030 Agenda represents a strategy based on goal setting without legal obligations or implementation arrangements, and with a commitment to follow-up and review.

Kanie suggested that, in the case of Japan, the private sector might use SDG 12 on sustainable consumption and production (SCP) as an entry point to implementation of the 2030 Agenda, while the SDGs as a whole can be used as a checklist for considering linkages with other aspects of sustainability. He proposed that certain entities, including the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF), regional bodies, and the Multi-stakeholder Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation that was set up under the Technology Facilitation Mechanism, could be viewed as mechanisms for exporting Japan’s good practice to other countries. He highlighted Japan’s creation of the “Open 2030” platform on SDG 12 to promote cooperation on SCP.

Regarding the translation of the SDGs to the national context, he proposed comparing relevant national policies, goals and targets with the SDGs and, where there are differences of target outcomes or target years, facilitating domestic discussion to come up with an appropriate adjustment.

PANEL SESSION: Peter Bridgewater, College of Arts and Social Sciences, Australian National University, moderated the session.

Jatna Supriatna, SDSN Indonesia, highlighted: SDSN Indonesia’s cooperation with tourism authorities to develop good practice in sustainable tourism; the organization of a September 2015 workshop on water, food security and waste management; and the establishment of the SDSN Youth Network. He reflected on domestic coordination issues among various government and local authorities, noting that both centralized and decentralized systems have their challenges. He stressed the need to find “champions” in government for the SDGs, and for local-level implementation to be promoted through local communities sharing their practices on SDG implementation with other communities.

Putheary Sin, Cooperation Committee for Cambodia, said civil society organizations in her country are taking part in the process of localizing the SDGs through their participation in technical working groups under the Council for the Development of Cambodia. She noted that the Government of Cambodia had previously added a national goal on demining to the eight international Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), during its 2003 process of localizing the MDGs.

On challenges in implementing the SDGs, she noted pressure from external funders for strengthening governance arrangements even when a country is not yet ready to do so, and she stressed the need to generate an additional budget for SDG implementation. She reported that civil society organizations (CSOs) in Cambodia receive US$500-700 million of funding annually, of which 85% comes from foreign aid. On ways forward, she proposed: inclusive partnerships for development and financing of the SDGs; enforcing accountability, transparency and monitoring and evaluation mechanisms; and promoting a human rights-based approach to development. She highlighted civil society participation in shaping Cambodia’s draft Environmental Impact Assessment law.

Ivonne Lobos Alva, Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS), Germany, noted that Germany has offered to be one of the first subjects of follow-up and review by the HLPF, and that the country is already conducting a second review of its national sustainability strategy. She called for addressing the offshore impacts of resource use, noting that foreign aid alone will not be sufficient to address these questions. She also called attention to a research project by IASS and the Stockholm Environment Institute regarding Germany’s land-use footprint in relation to its imports of palm oil and soybeans. On challenges, she mentioned the need for attention to: coordination among the large number of government bodies involved in SDG implementation; public awareness raising to popularize the 2030 Agenda; promoting civil society and partnerships in implementation; and integrating the role of science.

Dave Griggs, Monash University, Australia, highlighted development achievements in the country since the 1950s, including: increased life expectancy; greater access to education; decoupling water consumption from agricultural production; and improving air quality. He also noted weaknesses, including: a low rate of innovation in business compared with other countries; rising income inequality; disparity in educational and health outcomes among different population groups; and the highest greenhouse gas emissions of any developed country.

Griggs outlined the Monash SDGs Project, which aims to identify appropriate SDG targets for Australia, promote integrated efforts, engage with stakeholders, and influence the Australian Government’s position as well as the international debate around SDG implementation. He observed that Australia water scarcity provides great incentive to decouple water use from agricultural production, whereas he said there is comparatively less incentive for decoupling greenhouse gas emissions through energy efficiency.

Alizan Mahadi, ISIS, Malaysia, said there is a danger of prioritizing certain elements of the 2030 Agenda, as “economic rationality takes precedence.” He proposed that the SDG targets could be ranked according to relevance in the national context, rather than prioritizing some goals over others. On challenges, he mentioned little interest at the state (provincial) level in resolving social protection and land rights issues, and the need for “horizontal governance” through multi-scale and multi-stakeholder engagement. He concluded that the SDGs can be used as a tool to initiate policy and institutional reform, but that strong political commitment, partnerships and social mobilization will be needed to ensure that people take ownership of the SDGs.

DISCUSSION: A participant raised the question of how SDG monitoring might connect with existing monitoring arrangements of human rights treaty bodies. A panelist noted that gender, aging and poverty are three important areas of human rights addressed in the SDGs. Another panelist highlighted the possibility that civil society could submit shadow reports to the HLPF, as they do to the Human Rights Council and treaty bodies.

Participants discussed how ecological footprints can be framed in an international context to take into account countries’ offshore impacts, noting examples from the UK and Germany with regard to those countries’ greenhouse gas emissions and land use impacts, respectively.

They debated whether efforts to eradicate poverty while reducing greenhouse gas emissions require policy tradeoffs. One participant noted that poverty must be addressed in a world that will be disproportionately hotter in poor countries than rich ones. Another said trade-offs should be addressed at the national level, noting that such an exercise will require a domestic overview of the potential impacts of all the SDGs, as well as stakeholder engagement that can offer different perspectives. Participants acknowledged that the Paris Agreement on climate change has set both mitigation and adaptation targets, and that the SDGs can help in achieving both. They also noted the importance of addressing related issues, including population growth and urbanization.

Raslan Hamzah, MIGHT, closed the symposium on behalf of Zakri Abdul Hamid, thanking all supporting organizations, the moderator and speakers.


Mazlin Mokhtar, UKM, chaired the workshop on Monday afternoon. Introducing the workshop theme, he highlighted challenges for implementation, including: using science in policy making; inculcating sustainability values in the young; and taking into account stakeholders’ and rural peoples’ views.


PRESENTATION: Andrew Cock, UNU-IAS, questioned whether it is meaningful to speak of implementation at any level beyond the local. He emphasized that there can be alternative ways to study the SDGs, besides through the frame of “national implementation,” suggesting that one could study topics of significance – for example, deforestation, malaria eradication, decarbonization, and marine litter and microplastics – focusing on the countries with the greatest potential for influencing those issues (such as, for instance the seven highest carbon-emitting nations). Alternatively, he said one could study dynamics such as the reshaping of aid flows, civil society pressure on governments, or the rise of environmental consciousness. He highlighted various elements of implementation, including partnerships, synergies between goals, levels of state engagement, and data about the functioning of SDG-promoting policies. He noted that the SDGs are influencing the discursive practice of governments in many ways.

DISCUSSION: A representative from a UN agency called for studying the dynamics of implementation at the local level, noting existing country programmes that are undertaking a range of activities, including biodiversity protection and conservation, and awareness raising. A participant said that, besides hardware and software, “heartware” or shared values around sustainable development are important. Another noted that urbanization, aging populations, climate change and technological change represent dynamics that will influence SDG interpretation in various contexts, and that “effectiveness” will take different forms.


Peter Bridgewater, Australian National University, moderated this roundtable.

PRESENTATIONS: Mahesti Okitasari, UNU-IAS, presented on Indonesia’s national strategies for the SDGs. She listed current government priorities, noting that the SDGs on energy, climate change, life on water, and life on land are not part of the current focus. She observed that the SDGs are mainly being addressed at the ministry level and not the local level, adding that a comparison of national development plans with provincial and local plans showed some conflicting priorities and a mismatch between national and local-level priorities.

Thomas Tang, Director, Sustainability Asia for the AECOM Asia engineering firm, and CEO of the Kuala Lumpur Centre for Sustainable Innovation, also noted differences between national and local-level application of the SDGs. He emphasized cities as a venue for effective implementation that will satisfy citizens, whereas national-level implementation is too abstract. He stated that business needs a healthy society to operate, and that the SDGs will help deliver this. He recommended that companies: build awareness of the SDGs at the board level; embed the SDGs into their core values; operationalize the SDGs along the value chain; and formulate the business case for SDG implementation. He noted that regulation creates a level playing field for companies to undertake less popular initiatives for sustainability, saying that, “If everything is voluntary, no one will do it.”

DISCUSSION: A participant defined the current research activities around SDG implementation as action research that is “unashamedly” aiming to influence the outcome of promoting sustainable development.

Another welcomed the disaggregation of data in the presentation about Australia, which, he said, had highlighted areas of weakness as well as achievements. He called for introducing such analytical tools and approaches to local governments in the region to enable them to measure SDG achievements over the next 15 years.

A speaker noted that Cambodia’s decision to add demining as a ninth MDG to be implemented nationally showed how an international framework could be used to help solve a national issue.

A UN participant highlighted the UN Secretary-General’s initiative on Data Revolution for Sustainable Development, which aims to provide open access data for monitoring. He noted that the report had suggested going beyond an intergovernmental framework.

A participant stated that science “must be actioned at the grassroots level.”

Participants discussed managing tradeoffs and promoting co-benefits in cases where a particular intervention may affect the implementation of more than one SDG. A speaker suggested that only by looking at concrete examples, such as land use, will it be possible to say what has been achieved.

A participant expressed concern that some countries view the SDGs as “MDGs 2.0” and are mainly using it as a way to reframe their aid programme. He suggested the SDGs could become a benchmark for “naming and shaming” of poor performance, as well as being a checklist for self-assessment.

Participants highlighted the problem of extreme inequality at the global level, and questioned how to discourage short-term thinking on the part of the private sector and instead encourage a sense of responsibility for promoting a healthy society in which businesses can thrive.

Another questioned whether the engagement of business with local communities is truly consultative, and if people have access to a grievance mechanism on land issues. He noted critical views of the current economic model, and emerging alternatives of the “solidarity economy” and social investments. He proposed undertaking studies of how communities might value fair wages and environmental protection.

A participant called for training of young people in “sustainability competencies.”

Another highlighted a trust deficit between the private and public sector in matters of taxation and partnerships.

Bridgewater concurred that the trust deficit would affect how the SDGs are delivered, and thanked everyone for their interactions. Mazlin offered closing remarks, affirming the view that business could be more proactive on the SDGs.


Dave Griggs, Monash University and SDSN Australia/Pacific, moderated the session.

PRESENTATIONS: Joni Jupesta, Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Centre for Energy, outlined the regional commitments to renewable energy set out in the 2010 ASEAN Plan of Actions for Energy Cooperation and the ASEAN Plan of Actions for Energy Cooperation 2016-25. He highlighted initial targets to have a 15% share of renewable energy in the regional energy mix by 2015 and a 23% share by 2025, noting, however, that due to falling demand for coal by China and the consequent need to consume former coal exports to China, countries had pulled back from these targets. He highlighted the high potential for hydropower in the Mekong countries, also mentioning the Philippines’ interest in geothermal power, and Singapore’s increasing solar power capacity. On biomass energy, he noted that the real proportion of biomass energy in Southeast Asia is likely higher than the current 1.99% reported figure, since this energy source is consumed in rural and remote areas.

On challenges to introducing a higher share of renewables into the energy mix, he mentioned issues including the: current low price of oil; unavailability of data for preliminary assessments; lack of connectivity especially among archipelago nations that comprise many islands; long-term nature of energy investment and consequent difficulty of accessing financing; difficulty of showing a track record for new energy technologies; and lack of support from power utilities that have the final say on projects.

He proposed: setting clear targets; building awareness of renewables among policy makers, the private sector and the public; promoting technology research and development; increasing the promotion of renewable energy financing schemes; and increasing the commercialization and use of biofuels.

Katinka Weinberger, UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), anticipated that the population in the region would grow to 4.6 billion by 2030. She said that material consumption in the region is growing at a rate four times faster than the population is growing, and noted the impacts of climate change, forest degradation and exploitation of marine environments. Despite the challenges, she said she saw grounds for “moderated optimism,” citing the existence of political will and strategies for achieving the 2030 Agenda, such as Sri Lanka’s creation of a Ministry of Sustainable Development.

Weinberger highlighted the establishment of the Asia-Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development, which allows for civil society and private sector participation in identifying sustainable development priorities, and supporting follow-up and review, noting, however, that questions remain about how to structure the process. She expressed concern that civil society space is declining in many countries, and highlighted the need for data on the poorest and most marginalized people. She noted that no country in the Asia-Pacific region is currently able to produce all of the data required for monitoring the proposed SDG indicators, and that mining data in the public domain presents its own challenges.

On ESCAP’s normative work, she said there is little agreement about what balanced integration of the three dimensions of sustainable development really means, and that the application of systems thinking will help clarify the links among different goals at the temporal and spatial scales.

DISCUSSION: Participants observed that ASEAN has great potential for further developing biomass energy, in particular from oil palm waste, but noted that oil palm plantations have been linked to deforestation, air quality problems due to slash-and-burn approaches, land-use conflict, and social impacts.

They emphasized that the extent of deforestation relates to the definition of “forest,” noting varying definitions under the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the International Tropical Timber Organization and other multilateral organizations or conventions. A participant highlighted that, while international organizations may take a different view, in Malaysia, the conversion of former rubber plantations to oil palm represents “going from forest A to forest B.” Another explained the reasons for the popularity of oil palm, citing: high potential for job creation; rapid crop growth; and multiple uses besides producing palm oil, including processing the trunks for woodchips, the fronds for compost, and the palm oil meal effluent for biofuels.

Participants queried the environmental and social impacts of hydropower. They noted that, relative to palm oil, hydropower does not create job growth, and has limited possibility of being scaled up.

They heard about current negotiations for Singapore and Malaysia to purchase power from Lao PDR, which include signing a Memorandum of Understanding for the purchased power to pass through neighboring national grids. They acknowledged that power production is a very sensitive topic in the region. They also stressed that, unlike the European Union (EU), ASEAN is based on cooperation for mutual benefits, rather than being rules-based.

On follow-up and review, participants noted: the value of the ESCAP statistical yearbook; the possibility for web-based tools to bring together interested parties to consider specific aspects of the SDGs at the regional level; and efforts to integrate quantitative data into predictive models so that Member States will be in a better position to understand the impacts of various decisions. They also noted the work of the Inter-agency Expert Group on SDG Indicators (IAEG-SDGs), which is delivering a package of proposed indicators in March 2016. They suggested that greater efficiency could be achieved in making use of the existing UN regional architecture for knowledge sharing and cooperating on common implementation challenges, and that regional institutions play an important role in terms of sharing good practice among nation states.

Participants noted that civil society plays a role in linking action from local to international scales, but is often seen as an agitator, especially in relation to the issues of forests and plantation management. They suggested that ASEAN and its Member States could benefit from adopting a model of engagement rather than confrontation, including a process similar to the UN process of accrediting non-governmental organizations (NGOs) as a way to assess legitimacy claims.

Several participants welcomed the Global Environment Facility’s Small Grants Programme, which is implemented by the UN Development Programme and which provides resources to local communities to develop sustainable solutions from the ground up.

Several Malaysian academics shared their work on data analytics, education for sustainable development (including field-based work on solar energy), and production of photovoltaic cells, noting that a group of researchers from the Solar Energy Research Institute at UKM have won the ASEAN energy awards for five consecutive years for their work in improving solar panel efficiency and training local communities to market and use the technology.

Participants discussed the use of the term “data ecosystems” as an acknowledgement of the need to integrate data from different systems that are not harmonized or interoperable. A participant highlighted that, while massive amounts of satellite data are currently available, funding to support processing and analyzing the data is often not provided. Another noted anomalies relating to the continued use of old satellite data after land-use changes have occurred. Participants mentioned good examples of data use in the region, including Singapore’s OneMap integrated system for government agencies, and the World Resources Institute’s cooperation with Google Maps to produce clear and transparent data on deforestation.

A participant expressed concern about protecting countries’ sovereignty, and questioned to what extent countries in the region would be willing to release data for SDG monitoring purposes. Another participant cautioned that turf wars should be avoided, and expressed concern that the current system is set up as a competitive environment in which NGOs, government departments and international institutions compete for funding, revenue and influence.

A participant suggested that countries will benefit from making data freely available, rather than leaving it to be captured and controlled by the private sector, which may use it in ways that are not consistent with national development goals. Participants noted that, while the current focus in the SDGs process is on developing indicators, training for the use and collection of data will also be a challenge for SDG implementation.

Participants agreed that, besides educating the next generation, the current generation of politicians and parliamentarians should also be educated about sustainable development, and they said this education must be done in a way that engages them and is relevant and understandable. A participant noted that, for some, a sustainable future relates mainly to renewable energy, while to others, it could involve changing the whole social and economic system. He suggested that, rather than trying to articulate a desired end point, specific actions could be analyzed in terms of whether they are making the world more, or less, sustainable.


Salvatore Arico, UNESCO, moderated the session.

PRESENTATIONS: Tahl Kestin, Monash University and SDSN Australia/Pacific, presented Australian experiences of the role of academia in “national implementation” of the SDGs. She emphasized that SDG implementation, to be successful, must take place at all levels, and should not be left to governments alone. She highlighted examples in which organizations, business, and public entities at the subnational levels have adopted the SDGs as a framework to guide their work. She introduced the work of SDSN, which now has over 400 members, explaining the main elements of its work as: collaborating on international research projects; establishing national and regional networks of knowledge institutions; creating thematic networks; providing free online courses through SDSNedu; and promoting action through SDSN Youth. She noted that SDSN Australia/Pacific works with 19 member organizations from Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands, focusing on the SDGs, deep decarbonization pathways, cities, and SDSN Youth. She noted that no platform for sustainable development research exists as yet for Australian researchers, and that universities are highly competitive and need to find ways to collaborate.

Terry Parnell, East-West Management Institute, displayed maps and data that have been made available through the Open Development Initiative. She drew attention to the loss of forest cover in Cambodia since the 1970s, and the need to maintain the Mekong river ecology that supports a rich freshwater fishery and rice cultivation, contributing a high proportion of dietary protein to the Cambodian population. She stressed the role of her project in promoting data literacy around the SDGs. Noting some sensitivity among government agencies about open data, she explained that the project does not request any data from governments, and anticipated that, as information is increasingly seen to be of value, agencies will share it.

DISCUSSION: Participants affirmed the importance of open data, and noted the increased recognition of indigenous and local knowledge vis-à-vis scientific knowledge. They noted the importance of culture as the fourth pillar of sustainable development.

With reference to the “precarious” ecology of the Tonle Sap system, a participant highlighted the importance of investing in disaster risk reduction, quoting the projection that a dollar spent on disaster risk reduction (DRR) will save $10 in the future.

Concluding the discussion, Arico affirmed that SDSN can play a valuable role in relation to crowdsourcing sustainability solutions and support for citizen science.


Robert Lindner, UNU-IAS, moderated the session. He explained that Goal 12 had been chosen for discussion as it is relevant for most countries and has many interlinkages with other SDGs.

PRESENTATIONS: Alizan Mahadi, ISIS Malaysia, presented a four-year project on the National SCP Blueprint, which was coordinated by Malaysia’s Economic Planning Unit in conjunction with 14 government agencies and funded through the EU SWITCH-Asia programme. He said the project had identified pathways to SCP, including, for example: green procurement by government; promoting the business case for SCP; moving towards a circular economy; constructing energy-wise buildings; and coordinating and monitoring SCP implementation with reference to an evaluation framework.

He reported that, while listings in the “MyHijau” directory of government-approved green products and services have increased, there are still only around 400 products listed. He noted that while domestic water consumption is still within sustainable levels, solid waste generation is increasing and should be addressed.

Masachika Suzuki, Graduate School of Global Environmental Studies, Sophia University, Japan, presented his research project on SCP, which is investigating barriers to national implementation of SCP in Southeast Asia. He invited participants to propose research questions and areas of study, noting the work of existing organizations and standard-setting bodies, including the Global Reporting Initiative, the Carbon Disclosure Project, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 2600 on social responsibility, and the UN Environment Programme’s 10-Year Framework of Programmes (10-YFP) on SCP.

DISCUSSION: Several participants noted difficulties for independent monitoring of government procurement practices and other areas of concern, in view of restrictive legislation and withdrawal of state support for “difficult” institutions. They highlighted the potential role of the Department of Statistics in leading the way on monitoring.

A speaker noted that, while large Japanese companies have a high rate of acceptance of ISO 14000 on environmental management standards, they do not necessarily disclose data.

Participants discussed the international dimension of waste management and the lack of tracking of waste exports. Another stressed that data will only continue to be collected if there is demand for it.

Participants highlighted the issue that a focus on “doing more with less” through SCP will still be insufficient to reduce reliance on natural resources to below the rate at which they can be replenished and the actually “doing less” is required, although neither governments nor the private sector are likely to adopt zero growth strategies. They noted the role of culture in how natural resources are valued, with one participant referring to Islamic teachings about avoidance of waste.

Participants highlighted the need to raise awareness of sustainable practices, and to make education on sustainable development a part of the curriculum at tertiary institutions, for example, in engineering courses. They heard about differing responses in Australia and Hong Kong regarding demand for such skills, and acknowledged that, while such innovation is also somewhat industry-driven, idealism must be steeped in realism.


Norichika Kanie, UNU-IAS, proposed some next steps. He suggested: drawing a state-of-the-art picture of national responses to the SDGs at the national level in Asian countries; identifying appropriate space for regional entities to link the national and global levels, and developing the institutional architecture for stakeholder engagement on SDG implementation; developing options for the science-policy interface and creating a regional version of the Global Sustainable Development Report; developing case studies of SDG implementation, possibly on energy and SCP; and organizing regional and national-level workshops that focus on specific issues.

Participants highlighted opportunities for further work, including: studying the certification of organic food; publishing a book of case studies from around the region; and using traditional arts to teach children about sustainability. A participant highlighted efforts to develop an environmental fatwa (ruling) as a way to spread information about sustainability. They agreed to direct further suggestions to Kanie after the workshop.

On behalf of Zakri Abdul Hamid, SDSN Malaysia, Mazlin Mokhtar thanked all speakers and participants, and encouraged everyone to stay in contact. Robert Lindner, UNU-IAS workshop organizer, expressed appreciation for the inclusion of many Malaysian colleagues, and thanked the hosts and staff of MIGHT for their arrangements for the meetings.

Tags: implementation,national policy-making

Post 2015: setting up a coherent accountability framework

Heiner Janus & Niels Keijzer • 29-10-2014
Post 2015: setting up a coherent accountability framework

UN deliberations are underway towards a post-2015 agenda that unites poverty eradication and sustainable development. While negotiators are tasked to determine goals and indicators, another fundamental question is: How will progress towards the SDGs be monitored and reviewed?

A post-2015 accountability framework is needed to document and guide how stakeholders take responsibility, learn from their efforts and adjust their behaviour towards achieving the SDGs in a transparent manner. Discussions on such a framework are still at an early stage.

Only some general elements of an accountability framework have been agreed among UN Member States. Most importantly, the framework will be voluntary, non-binding and state-led, which raises the question of how governments and other actors can be incentivised to participate. The main incentives are likely to be reputational: states can strengthen their SDG profiles and showcase “best-practices”. They could also benefit through exchanging lessons learnt. Financial support, capacity development support and technology transfer can be additional incentives, particularly for least developed countries.

Incentives, however, have to be complemented by a strong commitment and ownership at the national level. The framework should be rooted in an inclusive, bottom-up approach, in which each government determines its own level of ambition. Further, governments should be able to link their national efforts to SDG discussions at the regional and international levels in a multi-layered framework.    

Currently, a fragmented landscape of international bodies is dealing with individual elements of the proposed SDGs. For each of the 17 goals, myriad entities and platforms exist, both within and outside the UN system. All claim global coordination functions, but many continue to work in parallel. Without addressing this incoherence, the accountability framework risks becoming a loose collection of disconnected efforts. Such a patchwork approach will not suffice in supporting the realisation of an aspiring agenda.

Therefore, the post-2015 discussions offer the unique opportunity of setting up a coherent accountability framework that engages stakeholders across all platforms. Such a framework would help to avoid duplication and promote synergies. Its major benefit is to bring key stakeholders together in a few focused discussions that are more effective and legitimate than the current fragmented setup of international cooperation.

A coherent framework would feature improved monitoring and reporting as compared to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and would enable a strengthened review process. It should consist of three key components: key actors (governments, the UN system, other stakeholders), interlinkages (within UN structures and outside of them) and ambition (in design and commitments).

The international community should engage in discussions on the accountability framework without delay. Only then can the post-2015 agenda be placed on solid footing from the start.

Find publication here.

Tags: accountability,frameworks and conceptualizations,global-level policy-making,governance for sustainable societies,innovation and technology,means of implementation,Millennium Development Goals (MDGs),monitoring reporting verification,national policy-making,Open Working Group (OWG) Process,Post-2015 intergovernmental process,poverty,stakeholders,sustainable development

Two New Policy Briefs on Governance in the SDGs

Earth System Governance Project • 18-09-2014
Two New Policy Briefs on Governance in the SDGs

As the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are coming to their end, the process of establishing their post-2015 successor is gaining more and more momentum. For the next 15 year period, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will be the main tool for achieving world-wide sustainability through addressing and incorporating the three pillars of sustainable development (economic, social and environmental) and their interlinkages.

To support the development of the SDGs, UNU Institute for the Advanced Study of Sustainability (UNU-IAS), the Post2015 Project and the Earth System Governance Project are developing a series of policy briefs. These policy briefs aim to provide the Open Working Group (OWG) for Sustainable Development with insights on how to best formulate and implement the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Earlier this year three policy briefs were released which stemmed from the International Workshop on Governance of and for Sustainable Development Goals. The workshop brought together international scholars and practitioners with expertise on global environmental governance to discuss key questions relating to the governance of, and for, the post-2015 development agenda. More information about these first three policy briefs can be found here.

Now, two new policy briefs have been released. While the first three policy briefs in the series focused significantly on the process of construction of goals in the SDGs, the two new briefs focus on the next stage of the process: implementation.

Policy Brief #4, Coherent Governance, the UN and the SDGs, was produced by an international group of experts on environmental governance led by Prof. Steven Bernstein (University of Toronto) and Prof. Joyeeta Gupta (University of Amsterdam). This policy brief explores the opportunities for creating a coherent governance system where international and domestic efforts are linked.

Prof. Bernstein explained that “while the formulation of the SDGs has been occupying governments and NGOs, this brief tries to draw attention to the next step in that process – the design of institutional arrangements that can support their implementation and review at the global and national levels”.

Policy Brief #5, Sustainable Development Goals and Inclusive Development, evaluates the proposed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) developed by the UN General Assembly’s Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals (OWG) against criteria for inclusive development.  Like the other policy briefs in the series, it was produced by an international group of experts on environmental governance.

With the help of development principles, tools, and evaluation criteria three distributional governance problems are identified, which can be addressed by developing context-relevant, appropriate targets and indicators. However, this will require exceptional steering and leadership to ensure their successful implementation. The conclusion drawn is that “without attention to the principles of inclusive development, the SDGs will join the sphere of paternalistic goals, which may enhance the conditions of the vulnerable while not adequately addressing the challenging relational politics of sharing our Earth in the Anthropocene”.

This collaboration between UNU Institute for the Advanced Study of Sustainability (UNU-IAS), the Post2015 Project and the Earth System Governance Project is unique in its focus on governance of and for the SDGs, and gives important insight on both how complex and important the question is, and how to continue. Hopefully these policy briefs, and more briefs to follow in the series, will contribute to a stronger, more differentiated and informed focus on governance in the post-2015 development agenda.

Tags: adaptiveness,architecture,Earth System Governance Project,environmental governance,frameworks and conceptualizations,governance definitions / concepts,governance for sustainable societies,governance indicators,inclusiveness,indicators & targets,means of implementation,Millennium Development Goals (MDGs),monitoring reporting verification,national policy-making,Open Working Group (OWG) Process,participatory co-design,Post-2015 intergovernmental process,POST2015 Project on Sustainability Transformation beyond 2015,science-policy,stakeholders,sustainable development,United Nations General Assembly Open Working Group (OWG),United Nations University (UNU)

Policy Briefs on Governance in the Sustainable Development Goals

Earth System Governance Project • 28-05-2014
Policy Briefs on Governance in the Sustainable Development Goals

“The achievement of sustainable development on a planetary scale requires a redoubled effort to attend to the needs of the Earth's bottom billion. But in a world of 7 billion people, expected to increase to 9-10 billion in the coming decades, achieving sustainability will require redefining what many individuals and societies believe is the good life” – Policy Brief #1

As the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are coming to their end, the process of establishing their post-2015 successor is gaining more and more momentum.  For the next 15 year period, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will be the main tool for achieving world-wide sustainability through addressing and incorporating the three pillars of sustainable development (economic, social and environmental) and their interlinkages.

To support the development of SDGs, three new policy briefs have been developed by UNU Institute for the Advanced Study of Sustainability (UNU-IAS), the Post2015 Project and the Earth System Governance Project. These policy briefs aim to provide the Open Working Group (OWG) for Sustainable Development with insights on how to best formulate and implement the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Policy Brief #1, ‘Earth System Challenges and a Multi-layered Approach for the Sustainable Development Goals’ argues for the importance of realizing that achieving sustainability does not only require combating poverty and other threats to human well-being, but also over-consumption and unsustainable lifestyles in wealthier societies. It suggests a multi-layered approach with SDG targets framed in global terms but also tailored to sub-global contexts when necessary.

Policy Brief #2, ‘Linking Education and Water in the Sustainable Development Goals’ is an application of Policy Brief #1, where it is argued that education is highly connected to potential progress on water-related sustainability challenges.

Policy Brief #3, ‘Integrating Governance into the Sustainable Development Goals’, picks up where Policy Brief #1 left off, digging deeper into the question about how to integrate not just governance, but all aspects of it: good, effective and equitable governance. Creating a stand-alone goal on governance is argued to provide a better opportunity for taking all three aspects of governance into account, but it also risks that efforts to achieve ‘good’ governance overshadow the other two. Integrating governance into all issue-specific SDGs instead, provides a reversed scenario; it may open space for the creation of well-tailored targets that advance certain aspects of governance, but such progress will be less comprehensive.

The Policy Briefs #1 and #3 stem from the International Workshop on Governance of and for Sustainable Development Goals. The workshop brought together international scholars and practitioners with expertise on global environmental governance to discuss key questions relating to the governance of, and for, the post-2015 development agenda.

The policy briefs were officially released at the policy forum: 'Governance', 'Education' and the Architecture of the Sustainable Development Goals, held 22 May 2014, in New York and co-organized by UNU-IAS and the POST2015 Project (hosted by Tokyo Institute of Technology). This effort has been unique in its focus on governance of and for the SDGs, and gives important insight on both how complex and important the question is, and how to continue. Hopefully these three policy briefs, and more briefs to follow in the series, will contribute to a stronger, more differentiated and informed focus on governance in the post-2015 development agenda.

Tags: adaptiveness,architecture,Earth System Governance Project,frameworks and conceptualizations,Governance as Goal,governance definitions / concepts,governance for sustainable societies,governance indicators,indicators & targets,means of implementation,Millennium Development Goals (MDGs),monitoring reporting verification,national policy-making,participatory co-design,Post-2015 intergovernmental process,POST2015 Project on Sustainability Transformation beyond 2015,private sector,science-policy,stakeholders,synergies and interdependencies,trade-offs, synergies and interdependencies

Workshop Report Highlights Role of Governance for the Sustainable Development Goals

Earth System Governance Project • 01-05-2014
Workshop Report Highlights Role of Governance for the Sustainable Development Goals

A new UNU-IAS report, in collaboration with the Earth System Governance Project and the POST2015 Project, examines the role of governance in developing and achieving the sustainable development goals (SDGs). The report, led by UNU-IAS Senior Research Fellow and Earth System Governance Steering Committee member Norichika Kanie, presents ideas generated at an international workshop held in New York on 1 February 2014, which brought together over 40 experts involved in the SDG process.

A key part of the international process to formulate a post-2015 development agenda is the creation of a limited number of sustainable development goals, with negotiations ongoing within the United Nations to develop these SDGs and to provide the necessary financing. While issues of governance have been emphasized at prominent points in the discussions, they have not been fully explored.

The International Workshop on Governance “of” and “for” Sustainable Development Goals engaged international scholars and practitioners to explore these governance issues, focusing on the architecture of the SDGs, their implementation and evaluation, and the role of UN institutions. The workshop was organized by UNU-IAS, the Earth System Governance Project, and the POST2015 research project (which is hosted by Tokyo Institute of Technology and sponsored by the Ministry of the Environment, Japan).

The report highlights the need to make governance a central issue in the SDG agenda. It suggests that even the best designed and funded goals and targets are likely to have significant limitations, unless attention is paid to national implementation and international governance for support and monitoring. The need to view governance as an essential enabling condition for the SDGs is widely acknowledged, and was reflected in the outcome document of the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development.

The workshop and report are unique in focusing on how governance can be included in the SDG process. Five key messages from the workshop are highlighted in the report:

1.    The SDGs process has the opportunity to go beyond the millennium development goals (MDGs) in adopting a systemic approach which bridges efforts to eradicate poverty with social progress and environmental sustainability.

2.    Although governance is an important idea, the term itself is not understood by all countries in the same way.

3.    The best option may be for governance to be integrated into discussions on each individual issue, or to link different issues together.

4.    The SDGs should be made as inclusive as possible, with incentives created for actors in both developed and developing countries to become involved in the process and maintain their involvement.

5.    Because of diverse understandings and experiences of governance, the SDGs may need to take a differentiated approach in integrating governance issues.

The report’s lead author, Norichika Kanie, explained that “many important ideas were inspired at the New York workshop by a unique mixture of key policymakers, stakeholders and scientists. The participants highlighted the vital importance of governance aspects of SDGs, which have been somewhat neglected and overlooked by the ongoing policy debate for various political reasons. The workshop identified some ideas with regard to the way to address the important issues on governance while avoiding political problems.”

Ruben Zondervan, Executive Director of the Earth System Governance project and co-author of the report, added that “the workshop was a good example of co-design, that is, the articulation of core research questions through deliberative dialogues among researchers and policymakers. This report will thus be a valuable starting point for further research by the POST2015 Project, UNU-IAS, and the Earth System Governance global research alliance on governance ‘of’ and ‘for’ the SDGs. Three policy briefs, for example, are already in production that will elaborate in more detail some of the issues that emerged from the workshop.”

This report is the first in a series focusing on the SDGs, which will be produced by the Governance for Sustainable Development (GSD) project of UNU-IAS and the Earth System Governance project. The reports will be published on the UNU-IAS and Earth System Governance websites as they become available.

For more information, please contact Norichika Kanie ( The full report can be downloaded here (pdf)

Tags: adaptiveness,architecture,Earth System Governance Project,frameworks and conceptualizations,Governance as Goal,governance definitions / concepts,governance for sustainable societies,governance indicators,indicators & targets,Major Group Science & Technology,means of implementation,Millennium Development Goals (MDGs),monitoring reporting verification,national policy-making,participatory co-design,Post-2015 intergovernmental process,POST2015 Project on Sustainability Transformation beyond 2015,private sector,science-policy,stakeholders,synergies and interdependencies,trade-offs, synergies and interdependencies,United Nations General Assembly High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF)

Ideas on Governance ‘of’ and ‘for’ Sustainable Development Goals

Norichika Kanie, Ruben Zondervan, and Casey Stevens (editors) • 01-05-2014
UNU-IAS/POST2015 Conference Report. Tokyo: United Nations University Institute for the Advanced Study of Sustainability
Ideas on Governance ‘of’ and ‘for’ Sustainable Development Goals

This summary captures the main outcomes of the International Workshop on Governance 'of' and 'for' Sustainable Development Goals, held 1 February 2014, in New York, USA.

This workshop addressed the key issues related to governance and the SDGs. The purpose of the workshop was to discuss key questions relating to the governance of, and governance for, the post-2015 development agenda, with particular focus on the SDGs. It aimed at identifying points where expert consensus emerges and to find new ideas through interactive exercise between governance researchers and policy makers. Discussions addressed four guiding questions. Each question was first discussed in six breakout groups and later in plenary. The ideas included in this report are an outcome of the collective effort of the participants.

Key Messages

SDGs will need to go beyond MDGs in adopting a systemic approach, having broad inclusiveness and applicability for both developing and developed countries, stimulating innovative and long term thinking, and recognizing that we live in the anthropocene era. One idea to reflect this reality is to follow a "sub-goal" approach - establish SDGs at the global level addressing systemic challenges, supported by sub-goals composed of a set of options for different levels of governance from global to local levels through which systemic challenges could be addressed. They should be crafted in order to facilitate stakeholder participation in the problem-solving activities.

·         Governance is a problematic and sensitive term in UN politics. The concept of "governance" is understood very differently and there is no agreement on its meaning and function in the SDG context.

·         Social science research does not provide findings strongly supporting a stand-alone governance goal and political experience indicates high potential for disagreement and infeasibility. SDGs could be better implemented when governance is woven into each issue, which does not necessitate using the term "governance".

·         There is a strong need for finding incentives for all actors to contribute to the SDG process and to weave that into the UN process in a broader context.

·         Governance is important for the process leading to and formulation of the SDGs and governance of the SDGs will be crucial for their implementation. The aspects and forms of governance relevant to governance for and of SDGs are however different and hence need differentiation in the policy discourse and process.


The International Workshop on Governance 'of' and 'for' Sustainable Development Goals was organized by the United Nations University Institute for the Advanced Study of Sustainability (UNU-IAS), the Earth System Governance Project and the POST2015 project (hosted by Tokyo Institute of Technology and sponsored by Ministry of Environment, Japan).

Download the report here (pdf).

Tags: adaptiveness,architecture,Earth System Governance Project,frameworks and conceptualizations,Governance as Goal,governance definitions / concepts,governance for sustainable societies,governance indicators,indicators & targets,Major Group Science & Technology,means of implementation,Millennium Development Goals (MDGs),monitoring reporting verification,national policy-making,participatory co-design,Post-2015 intergovernmental process,POST2015 Project on Sustainability Transformation beyond 2015,private sector,science-policy,stakeholders,trade-offs, synergies and interdependencies,transition and transformation,United Nations General Assembly High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF)

Sustainability is a Learning Process

Peter M. Haas • 01-02-2014
Sustainability is a Learning Process

Sustainability is a process of managing the unanticipated interconnected elements of an increasingly complex global agenda: a challenge which was deemed the ‘global problematique’ in the 1970s.

It remains the primary challenge for the international community as it confronts an increasingly globalized and complex set of issues on the international agenda. This process of drawing connections – and the essential criteria of avoiding false positives and false negatives – occurs through linkage politics.

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are best thought of as signaling devices for the intentions and expectations of the international community (International Organizations, philanthropic sectors of civil society, and national aid agencies) than as concrete rules or a roadmap for development and sustainability policies.

Governments remain watchful of such putative rule oriented goals because such goals affect the long term flow of resources, and because they provide implicit expectations about how governments –particularly in the developing world – should spend their own scarce resources.

The political challenge is to devise meaningful SDGs. Rather than laying down common rules for all to follow, the SDG process may be better imagined as a process of learning to deal with complex issues.

Meaningful (robust and resilient) commitments occur when states share norms and causal ideas about which elements are on the global sustainability agenda, and which are closely intertwined. Formulating the SDGs rests on identifying elements of the global problematique which satisfy these two requirements.

Provisional research suggests that “global sustainability” lacks global consensus as a norm, nor does it command the causal understanding for how to achieve it. More viable candidates include food security, energy security and water security. Further research and political discourse remains to be done to identify further candidates.

Prof. Peter M. Haas is professor at the Department of Political Science, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Amherst MA, USA; and member of the Earth System Governance Lead Faculty.


Tags: Earth System Governance Project,national policy-making,trade-offs, synergies and interdependencies,water-energy-food nexus