Sustainability Analysis

What is this NCEA-programme about?

Dilemmas in policy coherence

Policies directed at one sustainable development goal (SDG) may have negative effects on other SDGs. A country may focus on biomass to support its national energy transition, negatively affecting tropical forests. Agricultural subsidies in high income countries may have negative effects on fair trade or food security in low income countries. One policy can work against another.

Incoherent policies create dilemmas: do countries accept the incoherence, or do they take action to make policies coherent? Voices from middle and low income countries may not always be heard in such debates. Options for action are not always clear, and may be unattractive to stakeholders of the existing policies.

The Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs subsidises the NCEA’s Sustainability Analysis programme to analyse such dilemmas. Sustainability Analyses should be aimed at dilemmas of global importance where action may be urgently needed with a view to low and middle income countries. They should address all stakeholders, and in particular those who can take policy action. It should limit itself to emerging dilemmas with a new complexity, which require new combinations of existing expertise that no other independent programme delivers.

The NCEA holds full responsibility to determine for itself which dilemmas it will analyse, and how it analyses these. We prioritise dilemmas that appear most relevant to the populations of low and middle income countries, timely in terms of political opportunities, and feasible for us to undertake. Dilemmas may often be related to the transitions of the global economy that are urgently needed for a sustainable development.

How we work

Our approach to Sustainability Analysis consist of four elements: 

1. Dialogue

In continuous dialogue with stakeholders we identify sustainability dilemmas that we may analyse. Our Impact Assessment programme permits us to travel to middle and low income countries, where we meet local stakeholders and donors. We stay in touch with local partners, donor organisations and thinktanks working on all SDGs. We listen to their views, and keep an updated longlist of sustainability dilemmas on our website, inviting stakeholders to express their views on dilemmas that may benefit from an independent analysis by the NCEA.

2. Screening

Through 'screening', we select dilemmas from the longlist for further exploration. As selected dilemmas will be new, it may be necessary to assess relevance, timeliness and feasibility in a preparatory study.

3. Exploration

We explore the sides of the dilemma, the expertise required, and the expertise available to make an analysis. We may consult stakeholders, review literature and write a report explaining why we will undertake a Sustainability Analysis - or why not. We publish the explorative study on our website as input for more dialogue.

  1. Analysis

A working group of experts overseeing the dilemma makes the Sustainability Analysis. They review available knowledge on options to deal with the policy incoherency, their impacts on sustainable development, and first steps countries may take. This is a matter of months. Within our budgetary limits, we may organise a round table discussion. The Sustainability Analysis is published on our website. Reactions may again feed back into the dialogue.