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Research Integrated Research on Energy, Environment and Society | IREES Research

Unraveling Sustainable Development Goal Interactions: A Systems Perspective on Leveraging Synergies and Mitigating Trade-offs | Anne Warchold

Anne Warchold
Anne Warchold

Field | Discipline

  • Environmental Sciences
  • Social Sciences, Interdisciplinary
  • Development & Transition Economics


  • Sustainability science
  • Systems analysis
  • Economics


Inspired by Herbert A. Simon (1991) assertion that the whole purpose of science is to find meaningful simplicity in the midst of disorderly complexity, this research delves into the complexity of sustainability through the lens of the 2030 Agenda compromising its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs, as a global blueprint, provide a standardized framework for countries to track their sustainability efforts. However, despite commitment, that progress has been hampered by various hurdles and overlapping crises. Understanding the interconnected complexities of the SDG system, including inherent synergies and trade-offs across scales, is crucial for informing effective policies and accelerating true sustainability. To tackle those challenges, the research approach embarks on a two-pronged approach:

Quantifying the complexity

Diverse quantitative methods are investigated and evaluated to navigate the complex pathways of the SDG system. These methods unravel hidden interactions, non-linearities, and the impact of data selection on our understanding of synergies and trade-offs. Variations in SDG interactions across diverse scales are explored, uncovering how context and spatial factors influence the nature and intensity of these interactions.

Amplifying Positive Impacts

Amidst increasing pressures on the planet's finite resources, bioeconomy has emerged as a promising avenue for utilizing renewable biological resources to meet our food, energy, and materials needs - triggering positive impacts across diverse SDGs. Bioeconomy, by default, however, is neither circular nor sustainable, potentially driving monocultures, deforestation, and ecosystem degradation, thereby harming biodiversity and exacerbating climate change. Therefore, this research delves into how these sustainability initiatives may mutually reinforce or impede each other's advancement and evaluates the extent to which existing bioeconomy policy strategies adequately capture these complex interactions. Identifying best practices and proposing improvements aim to ensure policy alignment with both SDG implementation and the bioeconomy trajectory.

Deconstructing the SDG system’s complex interactions, this evidence-based research tries to generate meaningful simplicity in the midst of the SDGs’ complexity empowering policymakers to mitigate trade-offs and leverage synergies, leading to a more coherent and integrated approach towards achieving a sustainable future.

Supervision by

  • Promotor: Prof. dr. K.S. (Klaus) Hubacek | Integrated Research on Energy, Environment and Society - IREES | ESRIG, University of Groningen.
  • Co-promotor: Dr. Prajal Pradhan | Integrated Research on Energy, Environment and Society - IREES | ESRIG, University of Groningen.

More information and contact details can be found on the personal profile of Anne Warchold

Last modified:05 March 2024 09.27 a.m.