Skip to main content

Policy Brief: Synergies and trade-offs between SDGs at the sub-national scale


The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in September 2015 are driving most development policies globally. With 17 goals, 169 targets, and 231 unique indicators to monitor and track progress of, countries may lose sight of the synergies and trade-offs between goals and targets. To address this concern, approaches are being developed to identify and quantify synergies and trade-offs at the national level, but there has been a limited focus at the sub-national scale. The observations were based on a case study in the Luanhe River Basin (LRB), China but are highly relevant to other river basins in China and Internationally.

Key policy recommendations:

  • A series of policies promoting afforestation in the LRB are promising and should continue to be implemented in the future. A sustainable ecological compensation mechanism between upstream and downstream regions for increasing financial transfer payments to upstream ecological protection areas should be refined and effectively implemented.
  • Water bodies play important roles in provisioning services, regulating services, cultural services and ecological integrity, particularly in terms of freshwater provision. Trans-provincial eco-compensation schemes (between Tianjin and Hebei) should be established and effectively implemented to maintain the engagement of residents and government in water sources areas to protect water quality and quantity.
  • Built-up land areas are projected to increase under future land use scenarios. In order to minimise the negative impacts on human well-being, planning policies should aim to balance urban expansion and ecological protection in the LRB.
  • Full-scale flood risk assessment should be conducted across the whole basin and embedded in the integrated development policies to minimise the flood losses and ensure long-term sustainability. Policy-makers must carefully consider the trade-offs between urban development and the potential threat from flooding, which is expected to be exacerbated by climate change.
  • Climate change is expected to drier and increase the frequency of intense extreme weather events in the LRB, which may increase the water scarcity in the LRB. Thus, sustainable water systems management policies under changing climate must be considered and put in place to better protect people and their properties and sustain socio-economic development.
  • Key infrastructure, especially large dams and reservoirs, can provide important protection to the downstream population in terms of substantially reducing the number of people at high risk of flooding. 

Read the full policy brief