How we understand coherence
In the process of exploring the concept of coherence in and with our partner institutions and countries, we have come up with the following twelve theses, summarizing our understanding of the complexities of coherence.
Resilience as a guiding principle
All post-2015 agendas share the common goal of reducing the harmful effects of natural hazards and climate change. The achievement of sustainable outcomes by individual agendas will however depend on successful implementation of all of them, as it is only in combination that they cover the range of potential risks to sustainable development.
All major international post-2015 agendas recognise the importance of disaster risk management (DRM) and its implementation is a globally accepted requirement for all countries.
Disaster risk management is at the core of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction and is a cross-cutting issue in the Paris Agreement (article 8), the New Urban Agenda (chapter on ‘Environmentally sustainable and resilient urban development’) and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (Goals 1 /no poverty, 11 /sustainable cities, and 13 /climate action).
However, the euphoria that surrounded the development of the global agendas in 2015 resulted in agreements that are only partially aligned.
The agendas are the outcome of negotiations conducted by different expert communities based on their own selective perception of global problems with regard to sustainability, climate change and urbanisation, their own priorities and their own terminology. Thus, the four agendas result in different commitments at national and local level concerning the development of country-based policies, strategies and instruments related to development planning, priority-setting in public investment, capacity-building, information and data management systems, and state regulation of, for example, land rights and spatial planning. This necessitates cooperation not only between ministries but also between local government units and between national and local levels. At the same time, countries must report on their progress at international level in compliance with the respective international agreement. When it comes to the implementation of these global agendas, national and international policy processes are making too little use of synergies, and are causing duplication and overlapping. The agendas’ different funding and support mechanisms might reinforce inefficiencies. In the ongoing debate, there are frequent calls for a more systemic approach, but this appears to be undermined by departmental boundaries and is not cultivated in practice. The lack of alignment of the global agendas can be observed on all levels, from the international discourse to the national level and down to the local level.
This situation has the potential to create substantial additional burden.
For example, overlapping responsibilities and replication in data collection and reporting can result in increased transaction costs. Even more significantly, opportunity costs can arise if countries do not consider DRM in their national policies on climate, urban planning and sustainable development. It is also possible that competing interests will be traded off against one another, for instance employment and investment versus climate change or DRM.
Greater coherence is clearly beneficial.
Synergies identified from an improved knowledge base can generate better policies and practices. For example, if climate data is taken into account in DRM, risk analyses become more reliable. Greater coherence allows resources to be used more efficiently.
Agenda coherence from a DRM perspective
can therefore be described as jointly strengthening resilience through implementing the post-2015 agendas. Processes such as mainstreaming, localisation, harmonisation, integration and alignment can all play a role in this.
However, due to the different priorities and the autonomous nature of the individual agendas, integration will always be partial.
At present, the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement carry the greatest political weight; the latter is equipped with significantly larger financial resources for implementation. The Sendai Framework and the New Urban Agenda have considerably less political significance. Each agenda sets its own political and financial priorities geared to the visibility of specific issues and the interests of UN organisations.
Greater agenda coherence will not happen automatically; it needs to be consciously promoted.
To this end, the UN has set itself an action plan at international level for greater coherence in the interplay between its sub-organisations. The interface between DRM and climate change adaptation is also attracting great interest at regional and national level. The adoption of the Sendai Indicators in the framework for monitoring progress on SDGs 1, 11 and 13 is an example of successful international efforts to achieve greater coherence.
Suitable entry points for greater coherence at national and local level can be found in the planning, implementation and reporting phases.
• The 2030 Agenda, the Paris Agreement and the Sendai Framework each have their own planning regimes, such as development plans, National Adaptation Plans (NAP) and DRM strategies. Integrating the different plans and strategies could play an important role in fostering coherence.
• Implementing the different plans offers leverage for greater coherence, specifically in:
i. institutional arrangements that promote horizontal and/or vertical cooperation in the public sector and participation mechanisms that promote cooperation between all sectors of society;
ii. financing arrangements (including innovative ways of mobilising private resources) that facilitate expenditure independently of the agendas and public-sector investment policies that take sustainable development criteria, DRM and climate change requirements into account;
iii. state regulation in the form of norms or standards.
• Reporting depends on a common database that can be accessed easily by all stakeholders and uses mutually defined parameters.
All processes can promote networking and interface management skills by disseminating knowledge and methodologies on, for example, system analysis, impact assessment and forms of cooperation.
Silos can provide support.
Sectoral silos have existed for a long time, as administrative structures are often based on specialisation of tasks. Numerous attempts to break down these silos are in progress, including for example inter-ministerial working groups, central government offices and joint procedural rules. Sectoral silos can nevertheless provide an effective basis for performing tasks in hierarchies where work is divided up by specialisation, for allocating responsibilities clearly and for focusing on goals. Arrangements intended to improve coherence run the risk of causing even greater complexity, thereby triggering resistance and reducing efficiency.
Against the background of the global agendas and global challenges, the inability to overcome sectoral boundaries in the interests of promoting resilience is a fundamental threat.
Ensuring that political and societal negotiation processes take this threat into account and including all members of society in the relevant processes are pre-requisites for finding sustainable solutions. Institutional boundaries will nevertheless continue to exist in the future, and with them the cost of institutional cooperation. This raises the question of how much coherence among the agendas can realistically be achieved.
”Good enough coherence” could be our guiding principle:
• There are no blueprints; instead, the aim is to get closer to ‘ideal’ coherence in specific contexts.
• Two factors are crucial: the institutional and structural framework and the ability of the state to act effectively.
• Coherence arrangements are the result of negotiation processes that ensure that the gap between winners and losers does not become too wide.
• Coherence arrangements are never permanent. They must remain adaptable and flexible.