Sustainable Development Strategies and the UN SD Goals (SDGs)

What Sustainable Development Strategies (SDS) look like and what impact they have depends on what those who formulated them believe is the best definition of 'strategy'. Mintzberg described ten schools of thinking about strategy.With regard to sustainable development, the strategy definition is crucial. If strategy is a sustained learning process in dealing with complex issues, an SDS based on this definition might be able to recognise 'wicked' problems. On the other hand, if the starting point is that the world is well-structured, a strategy in the form of a concrete action plan might be the most desirable. Of course, a combination may be the best solution.

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are the follow-up of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) with two important differences: firstly, the SDGs are universal, i.e. applicable to all countries; secondly their sustainability focus is much stronger. In September 2015, the UN General Assemble adopted the SDGs and the process of implementation is beginning in all countries. 

On this page we have put together our studies, research and articles on SD and SDGs. 

(2016) From PPP to ABC: A New Partnership Approach for the SDGs 

English (UK) Louis Meuleman, Jan-Gustav Strandenaes and Ingeborg Niestroy, Guest article published online on 11 October 2016 by IISD, claiming that Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) should not be the blueprint model for the new SDG partnerships. We need a more inclusive and result-oriented type that could be named ABC partnerships: genuine alliances of Administration, Business and Civil society.

(2016) Teaching Silos to Dance: A Condition to Implement the SDGs 

English (UK) A guest article for IISD, following discussions at e.g. the HLPF. The main argument is that, while the SDGs require breaking down "mental silos" to allow for change, the common call to break down institutional silos poses risks. Institutions provide the necessary structure, reliability, transparency and communication points. Instead of breaking them down, we need to teach silos to dance. Read the article 

(2016) How are we getting ready? SDGs and the EU 

English (UK) A report for the German Development Institute (DIE) on the state of play around implementation of the SDGs in the EU: "How are we getting ready? The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in the EU and its Member States: analysis and action so far". 

On 1 January 2016, the 2030 Agenda and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) entered into force. Historically unique is its universality: it is to be implemented in all countries, high-, middle- and low-income alike. This paper explores how the EU and its Member States are getting ready for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and takes stock of the activities undertaken so far. With an analysis of existing ‘gap analyses’, it points to areas in which the EU and its Member States are facing specific challenges, where the need for action is comparably large in domestic and external policies and/or where there are significant knock-on effects. It argues that the translation of the universal SDGs into a national and regional/EU context should be pursued in three parallel tracks: domestic (domestic policies with domestic impacts); domestic-external (domestic policies with external impacts); external (external policies with external impacts), taking into account feedback loops and impacts of global megatrends. The system of SDGs provides a suitable framework to tackle Europe’s key challenges in a comprehensive and strategic way, and to get on the required transformative path. A nexus approach is most appropriate for getting a grip on the interlinkages, synergies and trade-offs, for facilitating communication and improving integration. For the same end, horizontal and vertical policy coordination needs to be reinvigorated. This requires the establishment and maintenance of governance structures to overcome the traditional silo approach, both at EU- and at Member State-level. 
With respect to policy areas, the strongest overlap of the gap analyses considered in this paper lies in SDG 12 Sustainable Consumption and Production, with Target 12.3 on food waste underlined, and SDG 8 Economy and Employment, with an emphasis on Target 8.4 resource efficiency. Policy areas next to these are: SDG 9 Infrastructure and Investment and its linkages with five other SDGs; SDG 10 Inequality, linked to four other SDGs; and SDG 2 Food and Agriculture in connection with three other SDGs. 
download report

(2016) Why the EU must do more to implement the 2030 Agenda 

English (UK) Inge co-authored a Briefing Paper of the German Development Institute (DIE). It concludes that given the scope and universal nature of the 2030 Agenda, its implementation requires a new quality of cooperation with greater inter-departmental work and whole-of-government approaches that encompass all dimensions of EU internal and external policies.  Read more and download paper.


(2015) Governance Approaches and Tools for SD Integration

English (UK) On request of UN DESA, Inge wrote a paper on good practice at national level as regards governance approaches and tools for Sustainable Development Integration (SDI). The paper presents key steps to take for translating the UN SD Goals (SDGs) in national policies and processes. It is the first paper linking implementation of the SDGs concretely to different cultural characteristics of countries. Five conclusions are drawn:

  1. Governance approaches for SDI must be applied in context
  2. Insights in the national cultures are useful for understanding the governance environment
  3. Understanding the governance environment as "starting point" is a prerequisite for applying governance approaches and SDI tools
  4. Making SDI context-sensitive and fit-for-purpose can benefit from using a metagovernance approach 
  5. Stock-taking of governance environment & tradition in countries is urgent

Download the full paper (November 2015) here

[Back to home page Sustainable Development publications]

English (UK)  (2015) Role of Science, Technology and Innovation Policies to Foster the Implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals 

Enrico Giovannini , Ingeborg Niestroy, Måns Nilsson, Françoise Roure, Michael Spanos

This report presents the conclusions of the independent Expert Group on the “Follow-up to Rio+20, notably the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)” that was established by the European Commission (EC) to provide advice on the role of science, technology and innovation (STI) for implementing the new global sustainable development agenda (2030 Agenda). Inge was the rapporteur of the  Expert Group. More than fifty specific recommendations are presented in the Report.

(2015) Common But Differentiated Governance: Making the SDGs work

Full Journal article now published (Open Access) in 'Sustainability'


For the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as universal goals, differentiated implementation approaches are needed at national or other levels, as any one governance style falls short, and that there is some convergence towards a more comprehensive approach which is called ‘metagovernance’. To support this insight, we propose the new principle of Common But Differentiated Governance (CBDG).

Key points:

  1. Introduce ‘Common But Differentiated Governance’ (CBDG) as guidance for creating the most suitable governance arrangements for SDG implementation, taking into account “different national realities and capacities”.

  2. Use metagovernance - As all governance styles have their strengths and weaknesses, governance for SDG implementation requires mindfully combining arrangements based on ideas from different approaches; for this, metagovernance offers a model that can be applied. Metagovernance helps to design governance arrangements which combine the (situational) best of the three ideal-types hierarchical, network and market governance, without making one of them the “Holy Grail”, or denying one of them to be part of the mixture.

  3. Apply basic principles - To support transitions towards sustainable development, governance principles need to be applied such as reflexivity, long-term thinking, and multi-sector, -level and –actor governance.

  4. Establish support and peer review arrangements - Governance support arrangements are useful to assist process design, review, monitoring and evaluation. This could include specific bodies/networks, but also peer review arrangements.

Download the full Journal article published in 'Sustainability'.

Download the short precursor of the article here (published as guest article at IISD on 21st April 2015.


(2014) Governance for implementation of SDGs

English (UK) Inge authored "Governance for sustainable development: How to support the implementation of SDGs?", published in the 2014/2015 Outlook Report (Part II) of the Asia Europe Foundation (ASEF). This Chapter advocates establishing a process for SDG development, based on the national stocktaking and analysis with appropriate (meta) governance. This includes embedding the SDG governance in the national systems, and considering the introduction of an ex-ante policy screening. Download book chapter. Link to ASEF Outlook Report Parts I and II.

(2013)  Sustainable Development Goals2013 ASEF

English (UK) Inge co-authored a study with important new contributions to the debate on Sustainable Development Goals, published by the Asia-Europe Forum: SDGs and Indicators for a Small Planet.



(2013) Waarom duurzame ontwikkeling niet lukt en hoe het anders kan

Nederlands Louis Meuleman & Roel in 't Veld (2013). Published online 27.06.2013. The Hague: WBS.
Ons duurzaamheidsbeleid faalt, en iedereen (dus niemand) is daar verantwoordelijk voor. Achter de duurzame ontwikkeling in Nederland zit geen overtuigend idee; er bestaat geen samenhang tussen onze economische doelen, sociale doelen en milieudoelen. Het goede nieuws is dat niets ons in de weg staat het vanaf nu beter te gaan doen.
Dit artikel verscheen het zomernummer 2013 van S&D. Online hier (WBS) maar is ook hier te downloaden.

(2013) The governance of scaling up successful sustainability practices: How can National Councils for Sustainable Development organise the wider use of national and regional examples?

English (UK) Jack Cornforth, Ingeborg Niestroy  and Derek Osborn

The Global Network for NCSDs has published a report entitled: ‘The governance of scaling up successful sustainability practices: How can National Councils for Sustainable Development organise the wider use of national and regional examples?.’ The paper was co-authored by Jack Cornforth, Stakeholder Forum; Ingeborg Niestroy, PublicStrategy for Sustainable Development; and Derek Osborn Stakeholder Forum.


(2012) European Union, Governance and Sustainability

English (UK) Bitzer, V., Cörvers, R., Glasbergen, P. and Niestroy, I. (eds.)(2012), Open University in the Netherlands, 427 pp. 

A university textbook containing contributions of many leading scholars, introducing the state of thinking on governance and sustainability in the context of the European Union, including a chapter by co-editor Inge Niestroy on national sustainable development strategies.

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2011 SF Inge cover picture.emf

(2011)  Sustainable Development Councils at national and sub-national levels stimulating informed debate: Stocktaking. Stakeholder Forum, sdg 2012 series 

By Ingeborg Niestroy,Secretary General, European Environment and Sustainable Development Advisory Councils (EEAC)

The article captures the diffusion of Sustainable Development Councils (SDCs), providing analysis of different models regarding tasks and function, as well as good practice examples and some insights on failures and challenges. As there is little data available for the global picture, the article focuses on Europe, where it is based on surveys and other studies.



(2012) Global Architecture for SD Delivery

English (UK) Asia-Europe Foundation

As part of the research team of the Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF), Inge co-authored this report that was prepared for the Rio+20 conference. Download the report

(2009) Sustainable development and the Governance of long-term Decisions

Louis Meuleman and Roeland J. in ‘t Veld. RMNO Preliminary Study V.19 (2009) & EEAC Working Group Governance.

We tend to neglect long term futures. Humans seem to be “hard wired” to ignoring long term threats but are very sensitive to immediate dangers. This study analyses what is necessary in order to tackle the challenges of the context of sustainable development, taking a broad ´governance´ perspective. The central question is: What can be learned from ‘good practices’ and ‘worst cases’about the conditions under which governments and other societal actors may take wise decisions with a long-term perspective? The aim is to support government decision makers and societal stakeholders on regional, national and EU levels who are involved in long-term policy making. Download report

sds peer revw nl 2007 170x235(2007) A new SD Strategy: An opportunity not to be missed 

 English (UK) RMNO, The Hague

In 2007, the Dutch advisory council RMNO of which PS4SD's Louis Meuleman was the director, organised with financial support of the European Commission and the Dutch Government an international peer review of the Netherlands Sustainable Development Strategy. The peer panel was composed by experts from government, science, NGOs and business from Finland, Germany and South Africa. The first publication was an analysis of the Dutch SDS, the second the peer review report 'An Opportunity not to be missed' that was presented by peer review team chair Pancho Ndebele in a long discussion with prime minister Jan-Peter Balkenende. Download this Peer review Report


niestriy 2005 sust sust(2005) Sustaining Sustainability 

English (UK) Ingeborg Niestroy

A benchmark study on national strategies towards sustainable development and the impact of councils in nine EU member states, written by Ingeborg Niestroy. RMNO/EEAC Study 

Many European governments have established environment or sustainable development advisory councils to provide independent, scientifically based advice on these fields, and to assist in the engagement of many different parts of national society in advancing sustainability. The national and regional councils have together formed the network of European Environment and Sustainable Development Advisory Councils (EEAC) in order share information and experience across Europe. Download book