Synergies and trade-offs across sustainable development goals: A novel method incorporating indirect interactions analysis

Huijuan Xiao, Yue Liu, Jingzheng Ren

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


The sustainable development goals (SDGs) are presented as significantly interacted. Yet most studies only investigated the direct interactions of SDG targets, and indirect interactions, that is, the interlinkages transmitted through one or more mediums, should also be considered to obtain more accurate interaction estimation and more scientific policy decisions. We first made a methodological contribution by proposing a plus-minus decision-making trial and evaluation laboratory model, which can consider not only the direct synergies and trade-offs but the indirect ones. Then, based on this proposed method, we navigated the complicated network across the SDGs considering both direct and indirect interactions, find out the key interactive ones with a visually directed graph, obtain the weights of each SDG, and define the best governance structures to capitalize on synergies and minimize trade-offs. Results show that, when incorporating indirect interactions, the share of synergy effect of SDGs dominates the total influence, taking up to 98.33%, suggesting that the achievement of the 2030 Agenda can be facilitated through interactions. Although all SDGs should be equally addressed by 2030 suggested by the United Nations, equal importance across 17 SDGs does not mean we have to make the same efforts in achieving each SDG, and SDG 4 and SDG 13 are the top priority to tap into these interaction potentials. Our interdisciplinary analysis across economic growth, social inclusion, and environmental protection provides a science-driven reference for all UN member states to facilitate achieving the SDGs by maximizing the synergies and minimizing the trade-offs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1135-1148
Number of pages14
JournalSustainable Development
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2023


  • indirect interaction
  • plus-minus decision-making trial and evaluation laboratory model
  • sustainable development goals
  • synergy
  • trade-off

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Development


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