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Additional considerations of ‘cutting-edge’ concern, may hold significant interest for policymakers. These include: (i) the deep structure of international society in which environmental institutions are embedded, and the need to align the regime to this structure, most notably the power structure and norms; and (ii) the non-linear nature of human interactions with the environment (Young 2011).


11.4.3 Vertical and horizontal interplay in multilevel governance


International environmental institutions interact among themselves and with institutions from other policy areas such as trade, energy and finance (Stokke 2001; Gehring and Oberthür 2008; Oberthür 2009; Oberthür and Stokke 2011). In general, MEAs support environmental decision-making at the national level; however, coherence and interaction remain a challenge. Institutional interaction may be distinguished in terms of horizontal (i.e. across agencies at the same level) and vertical (i.e. from international down to local government levels) interplay (Young 2002; Young 2006). It can also be distinguished in terms of functional interactions, when problems addressed by two or more institutions are linked in spatial, bio-geophysical or socio-economic terms. In this case, the operation of one institution directly influences the effectiveness of another (Adger, Brown and Tompkins 2005; Young 2002; Young 2006). Interplay can also be influenced by political linkages, when actors create links between institutions to advance individual or collective goals (Young 2002; Young 2006). It also opens options for forum shopping (i.e. trying to find an institutional arrangement that gives maximum benefit to an individual or collective) (Gehring and Oberthür 2009).


Interplay is likely to produce tensions between and among institutions. However, it is equally likely to result in positive or synergistic interaction. In case of tensions, these may be resolved through negotiation entailing compromises ensuring, however, that the institutions involved can operate without disproportionately affecting each other’s ability to address the problems they were designed to address (Young 2011). The notion of interplay may provide relevant entry points to efforts aiming to improve horizontal and vertical integration.


As the 17 SDGs are intended to be fully integrated and universal, several countries are now grappling with the task of devising the most effective institutional arrangements to address the desired vertical and horizontal integration. The 2017 synthesis of the Voluntary National Reports submitted to date found that only about one third of countries were addressing all the SDGs (United Nations 2017), but almost all had put in place some relevant institutional arrangements.


Some examples of institutional approaches for horizontal integration include the following:


v Mongolia initially created a Ministry of Environment and Green Development, recently amended to Ministry of Environment and Tourism. The Ministry chairs a coordination committee for green development.


v Sri Lanka placed responsibility for the SDGs under the Office of the President, who chairs the National Council on Sustainable Development.


v Afghanistan has an existing High Council of Ministers which now supervises the nationalization of the SDGs and allocation of budgets against the targets and indicators.


v Costa Rica established a High-level SDG Council, jointly chaired by the President and three key ministers.


v Nigeria established a Presidential Committee on the SDGs and created the post of Senior Special Assistant to the President on the SDGs.


v Bangladesh formed an inter-ministerial SDG monitoring and implementation committee, involving 21 ministries.


v Belarus has a National Coordinator for the Achievement of the SDGs, chairing the National Council for Sustainable Development, comprising 30 agencies.


v Botswana has a National Steering Committee that includes the United Nations and all stakeholder groups.


v The Czech Republic has a Government Council for Sustainable Development, which includes nine thematic committees.


v Japan established the SDG Promotion Headquarters as a cabinet-level body headed by the Prime Minister.


v Denmark has an inter-ministerial SDG working group coordinated by the Ministry of Finance.


Examples of vertical integration include the following:


v Brazil’s National Commission for the SDGs comprises 27 representatives from federal, state, district and municipal governments and civil society.


v Belgium’s Inter-Ministerial Conference for Sustainable Development comprises federal, regional and community ministers responsible for sustainable development.


v India has created a National Institution for Transforming India, chaired by the Prime Minister.


v The Local Government Authority of the Maldives has aligned its five-year development plan, implemented by island councils, with the SDGs.


v Ethiopia has a Growth and Transformation Plan for implementation of the SDGs, with annual reports to a Standing Committee of Parliament.


Among others, Afghanistan, Argentina, Bangladesh, Belize, Benin, Botswana, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, the Czech Republic, Honduras, Kenya, Malaysia, Maldives, Nepal, Peru, Thailand and Zimbabwe have explicitly incorporated stakeholder engagement in their SDG institutional arrangements.


A pertinent question, given this wide range of institutional arrangements, is whether the lessons learned from previous attempts at institutional integration arrangements have been learned and incorporated into the current approaches. This should become more evident as more countries submit their Voluntary National Reviews to the High-level Political Forum on sustainable development.


An earlier form of horizontal integration, National Councils for Sustainable Development (NCSDs), came into vogue following the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development and were strengthened by the Johannesburg Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002. Their forms, functions and effectiveness vary considerably across countries (Osbourn, Cornforth and Ullah 2014). Following some progress in implementation of the Johannesburg Plan


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Policy Theory and Practice


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