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Policy coherence and the 2030 Agenda: Building on the PCD experience

Discussion Paper 210

March 2017

Mackie, J., Ronceray, M., Spierings, E. 2017. Policy coherence and the 2030 Agenda: Building on the PCD experience. (Discussion Paper 210). Maastricht: ECDPM.

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After two decades of stressing the importance of policy coherence, European and Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) governments have become accustomed to the need to promote coherence among their policies. In their international cooperation work, the principle of policy coherence for development (PCD) in particular has become accepted, even though it often leads to fierce debate. A whole set of mechanisms and practices have been built up in support of this debate, so as to encourage the search for synergies and inform the trade-offs and arbitration that are often inevitably required.

With the advent of the 2030 Agenda, the principle of policy coherence has now been extended to cover the whole scope of sustainable development. PCSD, or ‘policy coherence for sustainable development’, has thus become a reality reflected in the ‘Systemic Issues’ section of Sustainable Development Goal 17 (SDG17) on ‘Strengthening the Means of Implementation and Revitalising the Global Partnership’. Yet for those familiar with the practice of PCD, the challenge of this logical but much broader concept is immense. Recent research has demonstrated the multiple linkages that exist across the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the effort in terms of integrated policy-making that the 2030 Agenda will require. How this might be tackled, and what useful lessons can be gleaned from past practice in promoting policy coherence to support this effort, are the subjects of this paper.

Key messages

  • The 2030 Agenda introduces the new principle of PCSD which sounds similar to PCD but in practice is considerably more complex. Moving from PCD to PCSD thus raises both substantive and procedural issues.
  • Developing an approach to PCSD is at the heart of tackling the major integrated policy challenge posed by the 2030 Agenda and needs to draw on a range of experience, such as nexus thinking, mainstreaming, whole-of-government ideas as well as PCD approaches.
  • Research suggests that there is considerable practical experience of promoting PCD that can be of direct value for creating tools to promote PCSD. In particular the idea of a ‘PCD system’ with various complementary tools working in conjunction with each other should be valuable.
  • One success story in promoting PCD has been the creation of ‘policy champions’ to push the development agenda with other policy areas. Working with several sector champions as a group might be a useful way forward for implementing PCSD.

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Steven Wallis, PhD


2019-12-03 17:40:20

While this paper purports to establish coherence *between* policies, we find it is of equal or greater importance to establish coherence *within* policies. This recent paper (link below) strives to synthesize multiple policy perspectives from multiple disciplines and multiple stakeholder groups across the political spectrum: While the synthesized perspective is an improvement over the fragmented policies, it is clear from our measurements of the policy structure that our collective knowledge is not yet sufficient to resolve the problem. Thanks, Steve

James Mackie


2017-03-29 11:56:36

We entirely agree that the 2030 Agenda seeks to promote a new model of development cooperation that moves away from the traditional North-South model and recognises that development partner governments are fully responsible for the own development. However, we do not see how this absolves richer countries from ensuring that their policies with an external impact are coherent with development. Indeed it seems to us that because of their universal scope the SDGs actually makes it even clearer that all their policies need to be coherent with sustainable development. If anything the SDGs place policy coherence centre stage as promoting integrated policy making is at their very core. As to whether PCSD replaces PCD or whether the latter contributes to the former, we see at least two reasons why the PCD effort needs to continue as an important input to PCSD. First is a practical consideration. PCSD, because it is multidirectional, is considerably more complex than PCD and will be much more difficult to promote. If we are all seeking to make all policies coherent with each other there is a real danger that certain concerns get forgotten. It will therefore be important going forward for officials in development ministries in OECD countries to ensure that in their policy making the interests of development partners are not forgotten but continue to be pushed. Second, we know from experience that policy coherence is eminently political and often comes down to an arbitration between different interests. Equally we know that development ministries in OECD countries tend not to be the most powerful ministries in government. In such circumstances it seems to us vital that development ministries continue to pursue PCD in the broader context of PCSD and the 2030 Agenda, while knowing that other ministries will also continue to push their sector (e.g. policy coherence for environment, policy coherence for trade, ...). It is for this reason that our paper argues for a set of sectoral policy champions each tasked to advocate the policies of their ministry but also tasked to explore policy compromises, seek out synergies and prepare the ground for high level arbitration on the most intractable contradictions and incoherences that will inevitably arise in policy making. PCD will thus be one important input to PCSD. Finally we would entirely agree with you that global financial governance also needs to take account of the need to promote PCSD. The debate around illicit financial flows and the fact that these can undermine efforts at domestic resource mobilisation on a scale that is far greater than ODA flows is just one example of policy coherence considerations being vital in global financial governance.

Philippe Orliange, AFD Executive Director, Strategy, Partnerships and Communication


2017-03-23 14:29:06

Your interesting paper does not fully convince us that building on the PCD (Policy Coherence for Development) is the best approach to achieving PCSD (Policy Coherence on Sustainable Development). Agenda 2030 and the SDGs were designed partly as a reaction to the North-South approach to development, as presented in the Millenium Development Goals, or MDGs. In Agenda 2030, sustainable development is central whereas with the MDGs it was driven by international development cooperation, a minor arm of OECD member governments. To use a metaphor, with the MDGs, the tail (cooperation) was expected to wag the dog (country development). PCD was an attempt to strengthen the tail whereas the SDGs are an attempt to reverse the approach and let the dog wag its tail. Leaving aside the special case of fragile states, countries, including developing countries, are now fully acknowledged to be responsible for their development and expected to mobilize the required resources to achieve sustainable development. Thus, with the SDGs, there is hardly any need for coherence beyond the regular coherence of coordinated government. International development cooperation then properly becomes one of many possible means to be adjusted and contribute to developing countries’ needs. However, global financial governance remains one problematic area, of particular relevance, one would imagine, to the European Union. Because private investment responds to the expected returns of investors, which are dependent on access to markets as accurately pointed out on page 4 of your Discussion Paper, and to the extent that monetary policy influences markets and investors’ expectations, it is apparent that monetary policy, including global financial governance, tends to be overlooked in development economics; indeed, it is hardly mentioned in target n° 17.4 of the SDGs. We would like to suggest that PCSD hinges on articulating global financial governance with the SDGs.

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