Mapping synergies and trade-offs between energy and the Sustainable Development Goals

Author(s): Fuso Nerini, Francesco; Tomei, Julia; To, Long Seng; Bisaga, Iwona; Parikh, Priti; Black, Mairi; Borrion, Aiduan; Spataru, Catalina; Castán Broto, Vanesa; Anandarajah, Gabrial; Milligan, Ben; Mulugetta, Yacob

Publication date: 20 November 2017

Publication type: Journal article

Journal: Nature Energy



The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development—including 17 interconnected Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 targets—is a global plan of action for people, planet and prosperity. SDG7 calls for action to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all. Here we characterize synergies and trade-offs between efforts to achieve SDG7 and delivery of the 2030 Agenda as a whole. We identify 113 targets requiring actions to change energy systems, and published evidence of relationships between 143 targets (143 synergies, 65 trade-offs) and efforts to achieve SDG7. Synergies and trade-offs exist in three key domains, where decisions about SDG7 affect humanity’s ability to: realize aspirations of greater welfare and well-being; build physical and social infrastructures for sustainable development; and achieve sustainable management of the natural environment. There is an urgent need to better organize, connect and extend this evidence, to help all actors work together to achieve sustainable development.

On 5 September 2015, the 193 members states of the United Nations (UN) adopted a new 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development1. The 2030 Agenda succeeds the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and features 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with 169 targets, which UN member states have committed to implement by 2030. Energy was not explicitly referred to in the MDGs, and came to be referred to as the ‘missing’ MDG2. During the operational period of the MDGs and negotiation of the 2030 Agenda, it was increasingly recognized that energy underpins economic and social development, without which it would not be possible to eliminate poverty. This change in status3 made sustainable energy provision and access one of the central themes of the 2030 Agenda, whose preamble calls for “universal access to affordable, reliable and sustainable energy” and recognizes that “social and economic development depends of the sustainable management of our planet’s natural resources”1. SDG7 is accompanied by five targets to be achieved by 2030: ensure universal access to affordable, reliable and modern energy services (7.1); increase the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix (7.2); double the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency (7.3); enhance international cooperation to facilitate access to clean energy research and technology (7.a), and promote investment in energy infrastructure and clean energy technology (7.b).

By understanding the complex links between the SDGs and their constituent targets, researchers can better support policymakers to think systematically about interactions between the different SDGs, including how actions to achieve each goal affect each other within and between sectors3,4. Studies to date4,5 have lacked a target-level approach or have focussed on only a few of the SDGs6. Here we present a formative attempt by an interdisciplinary group of researchers to identify the full range of goals and targets in the 2030 Agenda that call for changes in energy systems, and characterize evidence of synergies or trade-offs between delivery of each of the 169 targets and efforts focussed on pursuit of SDG7 and each of its constituent targets. The purpose of this Perspective is not to provide definitive answers. Instead we aim to lay a foundation for systematic (and context-specific) exploration of the interlinkages between each of the SDG targets, in the context of decision-making about development and the transformation of energy systems1.


1. Transforming our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development A/RES/70/1 (UN General Assembly, 2015).

2. Brew-Hammond, A. in Energy for Development 35–43 (Springer Netherlands, 2012).

3. Lu, Y., Nakicenovic, N., Visbeck, M. & Stevance, A.-S. Policy: five priorities for the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Nature 520, 432–433 (2015).

4. Nilsson, M., Griggs, D. & Visback, M. Map the interactions between Sustainable Development Goals. Nature 534, 320–322 (2016).

5. REthinking Energy 2017: Accelerating the Global Energy Transformation (International Renewable Energy Agency, 2017);

6. A Guide to SDG Interactions: from Science to Implementation (International Council for Science, 2017);


The full article can be accessed here