Opportunities and trade-offs between the SDGs for food, welfare and the environment in deltas.

Lead Research Organisation: University of Southampton
Department Name: Faculty of Engineering & the Environment

Abstract

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are offered as a comprehensive strategy to guide and promote sustainable development, nationally and internationally. Furthermore, through the development of indicators associated with each goal and sub-goal, the SDGs support the notion of monitoring, evaluation and adaptive management, underpinned by aspirations of social justice, equity and transparency. As such, the strategic value of the SDGs is well founded. However, possible synergies, conflicts and trade-offs between individual SDGs and development pathways have received limited attention.

The overall aim of the project is to analyse the synergies and conflicts between the SDGs in complex socio-ecological systems (SES) and explore the resulting opportunities and trade-offs in policy. We use deltas as an example SES, as delta systems well illustrate the complex challenge of Agenda 2030. Collectively, they are home to 500 million people who are often poor with a strong dependence on rural livelihoods. At the same time, they are subject to multiple drivers of change operating at multiple scales. Examples include global climate change and sea-level rise, deltaic subsidence and reducing sediment inputs, extensive land use conversion from agriculture to aquaculture due to global seafood demand, and widespread migration and urbanisation. The resultant trade-offs, systemic shifts and critical thresholds in biophysical, economic or social dimensions are hard to foresee and often difficult to reverse. Linear 'command and control' plans and policies for development are inadequate to plot a course towards sustainable development. Instead, more dynamic and adaptive management approaches are needed to navigate this complexity. Integrated Assessment Models (IAMs) provide a whole-system tool that promotes multi-disciplinary approaches to explore the dynamics of complex systems and allows extensive participatory engagement in their development and application. This project will collaboratively develop a participatory IAM to explore critical sustainability challenges and interactions between the SDGs of no poverty, zero hunger, reduced inequalities, climate action and life on land and below water (corresponding to SDGs 1, 2, 10, 13, 14 and 15). The Ganga delta, West Bengal, India will be used as a case study, comprising the North 24 Parganas and South 24 Parganas Districts, which include part of Greater Kolkata, and are home to ~18 million people.

The project team has access to an extensive highly relevant base data for the site, available from the DECCMA project. The IAM will be developed and applied to explore plauible futures, and impacts for the selected SDGs, including extensive participatory engagement and consideration of scenarios and a range of policy options. There will be a focus on understanding the opportunities and trade-offs between the selected SDGs, as well as identifying key thresholds. Scientists and decision makers will combine their expertise on current policy challenges, together with data and models on hydrology, agriculture, fisheries (including aquaculture), poverty, livelihoods and ecology in the Ganga Delta to develop the IAM. Key knowledge gaps will be identified and filled with secondary data sources and a rapid fieldwork campaign as necessary. The timeframe of the SDGs is to 2030, which will be the major focus of our research. However, our analysis will also consider in more general terms changes to 2050 and beyond to examine how decisions within the SDG timeframe influence longer-term outcomes. The results will be explored through participatory workshops with key decision makers and agencies in West Bengal and India responsible for achieving and reporting on SDGs. The approach and the findings will also be shared with international audiences to demonstrate the application of this approach, the nature of SDG trade-offs in deltaic regions, and the challenges of operationalising and achieving the SDG targets.

Planned Impact

In assessing the SDGs, our methods will achieve transformative impact by applying and enhancing world-leading UK and Swedish research in close collaboration with Indian country partners to develop methods that analyse complex systems and inform difficult policy choices, including identifying policy opportunities and trade-offs. The research activities are designed to directly and positively impact the ~18 million residents of our study delta. This will occur via informed, intersectional and evidence-based management and policy development, emerging from an innovative research evidence base. Key to this is engagement with relevant stakeholders at multiple scales from delta planners in government, through NGOs, to community representatives, all embedded in the project execution as project partners (see letters of support). This participatory approach will promote evidence-based policy formulation, supporting direct impact and benefits on those for whom the policy is relevant. This approach contrasts with existing sectoral approaches based on narrowly informed and formulated policy and plans, which can often have a negative impact on delta populations. In contrast, there is a strong link between integrated evidence-based management and positive development outcomes. Deltas are strongly coupled systems and single interventions and changes can have unexpected effects both thematically and spatially, and in the short- and long-term. For example, traditional, single sector management might evaluate the local costs and benefits of investing in embankments in order to protect against river flooding. Alternatively, an integrated, multi-sectoral and multi-scalar approach considers how such infrastructure would interact with other delta activities and areas to identify wider impacts, potential maladaptation risks such as the flood impacts being transmitted downstream, and opportunities such as linking to other infrastructure development such as transport. Longer-term challenges, such as declining land elevation versus sea level, and demographic change must also be considered and assessed from a biophysical and societal perspective. The impact strategy of our research will thus require developing the institutional and scientific knowledge to address the spatial and scale-relevant evolution of delta systems under multiple interacting drivers, including how this will influence delta resident livelihoods. The poor will be a particular focus, combined with issues of equity, such as gender and socio-cultural context.

The research will assess the requirements to support better decision-making processes that underpin impact through policy formulation, implementation and monitoring at multiple levels. At the delta and intra-delta level, this requires the development of the skill sets that are required by both government agencies and civil society to support policy formulation. As such the philosophy of the research is that the sustainable management of delta systems can be enhanced and evolved through: 1) effective capacity building partnerships in policy formulation; 2) access to timely and relevant information and technical research support; 3) development of decision support tools; and 4) inter- and intra-delta engagements for learning, best practice and policy support. At an international level, the information derived from stakeholder engagement and commissioned research will provide impact through the unique contribution that deltas make to fulfil national commitments to international agreements such as the Sustainable Development Goals, UNFCCC commitments and Adaptation Funds (with deltas being major recipients). All this activity will be supported be a range of training activities and exchanges within the research, drawing on the consortium's extensive earlier experience of multi-disciplinary delta research, and innovations to fully exploit new opportunities such as virtual activities.
 
Description This award has significantly increased knowledge of several environmental and socio-economic processes within the Sundarban Biosphere Reserve (SBR) and identified areas of potential trade-offs and synergies in local and national level policy. It has also provided a framework methodology and model structure which can be followed in order to assess current and future interactions related to several Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The resulting integrated assessment model (IAM) can analyse multiple delta-specific biophysical and socioeconomic processes under a range of explorative and/or normative scenarios, allowing present and future trade-offs and synergies between a range of SDGs and their related targets to be assessed. The focus on system-specific information from local stakeholders allowed the research to prioritise and explore trajectories for SDG targets that are most relevant to their specific context and needs, and highlight the degree of policy alignment with the UN's 2030 agenda.
Within the SBR, stakeholder engagement has developed system-specific knowledge of the social, physical, and ecological dynamics and their interlinkages enabling the modelling of current and future land use land cover change, agricultural production, and mangrove area evolution in response to specific policies. Modelled outcomes indicate that any policy has implications beyond its defined remit. For example, an increase in water delivery to the mangroves for ecological reasons will also inadvertently benefit agricultural capacity in terms of crops grown, practices and productivity as water availability is improved (and requires more water than required by the mangroves alone). This, in turn, allows the local population choices around income and employment. However, the original policy may be negated as the agricultural improvements increase demand for land resulting in encroachment into mangrove areas. The identification and clarification of these localised implications highlight the choices that will need to be made by policy makers and other stakeholders.
In addition, novel data on nature-based livelihoods and socio-economic conditions, locally collected through primary surveys, have allowed statistical associations between environmental conditions and poverty to be determined via machine learning methods. For the SBR, exposure to cyclone hazard and connectivity were shown to have a significant impact on poverty distribution. The analysis also shows that, while Government schemes and policies (such as subsidized and free rations, houses for the marginalized, free education with mid-day meals, and improved water availability and sanitation) could reduce the poverty in the SBR to a considerable extent, repeated natural hazards, unplanned and unwise land transformation, and lack of livelihood options make the delta community extremely vulnerable, particularly to climate change impacts. This analysis and associations have shown a high level of predictive accuracy and offer a way of improving the monitoring of socio economic conditions and the progress being made towards achieving the SDGs. They also increase local understanding of the factors contributing to poverty across the SBR and will allow for more effective targeting of policy and resources.
Exploitation Route The framework and model developed for this research can be applied in other deltas, and more broadly in other Socio-Ecological Systems (SES), to address a range of questions and issues. The focus on local stakeholder input enables inputs to be location-specific and encourages the consideration of policy impacts at the 'real life' scale.
To progress the approach developed here, initially extending the analysis temporally to capture the more incremental change associated with natural processes and spatially to include the influence of important socio-economic factors (such as urban development and spread, other income streams (e.g., tourism, remittances), and local cultural practises) would be beneficial for post-SDG policy analysis. As the nature of poverty can vary, further research could also explore the poverty-environment associations by identifying if and how they change over time and space, and what implications this may have for monitoring future SDG progress. The methodology could also be expanded to include important factors such as government safety nets, external financial assistance or environmental policies.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Communities and Social Services/Policy,Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice

 
Description The findings from this research are being discussed with the Governments of India and West Bengal. Within the Government of West Bengal, the Department of Environment, Gov. of West Bengal has used some of the findings in their 2021 expert committee report on "Protection of Coastal Areas and earthen embankment through Vegetative Solution". The Department of Sundarban Affairs and Department of Planning, Statistics and Programme Monitoring have expressed interest in the research outcomes although presentation and discussion of the final project results has been delayed due to travel restrictions. In addition, in collaboration with Jadavpur University, the findings are being used to develop further research and relationships through international NGOs such as WWF India, Oak Foundation, Sign of Hope and Development Research Communication and Services (DRCSC) who are active in the delta.
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Communities and Social Services/Policy,Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Societal,Economic,Policy & public services

 
Title Sundarban Biosphere reserve database 
Description A collation of known biophysical and socioeconomic datasets, their metadata and sources which provide information on the both human and natural processes occurring within the Sundarban Biophysical Reserve system. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2020 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact The database is informing the methodologies used within the project. 
 
Title Time to access mapping 
Description Time to access map created in a GIS for the Sundarban Biosphere Reserve based on Google maps data. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2019 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact These data products have engaged local government stakeholders from the transport department of the Sundarban Affairs. 
 
Description SDG Delta international partners 
Organisation Jadavpur University
Country India 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We have provided expert knowledge in the integrated assessment of deltas, the spatial analysis and linking of natural and socioeconomic data sets, and the modelling of crop production considering the effect of water resources, shallow groundwater, soil-vegetation interactions and irrigation. We have provided access to several data sets and data products including those related to socioeconomic development, land use land cover and climate. Furthermore, we have provided expertise in policy auditing and, guidance and facilitation of stakeholder engagement.
Collaborator Contribution Jadavpur University have provided expert local knowledge and data of both natural and human aspects of the study region. They have also been instrumental in ongoing stakeholder engagement within the region. This has included organising workshops with local government, NGOs and community leaders. The Jadavpur University team are also taking the lead on conducting socioeconomic data collection across the study region to inform the research. They have access to simulations of local hydrological and land cover (mangroves) processes. The Stockholm Resilience Centre have provided expertise in linking multidimensional poverty with ecosystem services, particularly those from fisheries and aquaculture. They have also provided guidance and facilitated the collection of socioeconomic data across the study region. WWF have provided valuable local knowledge of the study area, an understanding of local policy and it implications on humans- wildlife interaction, and identified data that may help inform the research. They have also guided the formulation of the household surveys questionnaire for socioeconomic data collection.
Impact N/A This project is multidisciplinary covering aspects of formal, natural and social sciences including the following diciplines: Socioeconomics, geography, coastal processes, oceanography, engineering and statistics.
Start Year 2019
 
Description SDG Delta international partners 
Organisation Stockholm Resilience Centre
Country Sweden 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We have provided expert knowledge in the integrated assessment of deltas, the spatial analysis and linking of natural and socioeconomic data sets, and the modelling of crop production considering the effect of water resources, shallow groundwater, soil-vegetation interactions and irrigation. We have provided access to several data sets and data products including those related to socioeconomic development, land use land cover and climate. Furthermore, we have provided expertise in policy auditing and, guidance and facilitation of stakeholder engagement.
Collaborator Contribution Jadavpur University have provided expert local knowledge and data of both natural and human aspects of the study region. They have also been instrumental in ongoing stakeholder engagement within the region. This has included organising workshops with local government, NGOs and community leaders. The Jadavpur University team are also taking the lead on conducting socioeconomic data collection across the study region to inform the research. They have access to simulations of local hydrological and land cover (mangroves) processes. The Stockholm Resilience Centre have provided expertise in linking multidimensional poverty with ecosystem services, particularly those from fisheries and aquaculture. They have also provided guidance and facilitated the collection of socioeconomic data across the study region. WWF have provided valuable local knowledge of the study area, an understanding of local policy and it implications on humans- wildlife interaction, and identified data that may help inform the research. They have also guided the formulation of the household surveys questionnaire for socioeconomic data collection.
Impact N/A This project is multidisciplinary covering aspects of formal, natural and social sciences including the following diciplines: Socioeconomics, geography, coastal processes, oceanography, engineering and statistics.
Start Year 2019
 
Description SDG Delta international partners 
Organisation World Wide Fund for Nature
Country Switzerland 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution We have provided expert knowledge in the integrated assessment of deltas, the spatial analysis and linking of natural and socioeconomic data sets, and the modelling of crop production considering the effect of water resources, shallow groundwater, soil-vegetation interactions and irrigation. We have provided access to several data sets and data products including those related to socioeconomic development, land use land cover and climate. Furthermore, we have provided expertise in policy auditing and, guidance and facilitation of stakeholder engagement.
Collaborator Contribution Jadavpur University have provided expert local knowledge and data of both natural and human aspects of the study region. They have also been instrumental in ongoing stakeholder engagement within the region. This has included organising workshops with local government, NGOs and community leaders. The Jadavpur University team are also taking the lead on conducting socioeconomic data collection across the study region to inform the research. They have access to simulations of local hydrological and land cover (mangroves) processes. The Stockholm Resilience Centre have provided expertise in linking multidimensional poverty with ecosystem services, particularly those from fisheries and aquaculture. They have also provided guidance and facilitated the collection of socioeconomic data across the study region. WWF have provided valuable local knowledge of the study area, an understanding of local policy and it implications on humans- wildlife interaction, and identified data that may help inform the research. They have also guided the formulation of the household surveys questionnaire for socioeconomic data collection.
Impact N/A This project is multidisciplinary covering aspects of formal, natural and social sciences including the following diciplines: Socioeconomics, geography, coastal processes, oceanography, engineering and statistics.
Start Year 2019
 
Description Initial Stakeholder Workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact The project aims were communicated to members of several departments of the Sundarbans Affairs, conservation NGOs and health NGOs. This was followed by an active workshop with participants to identify links and drivers of change in the SBR system and their relevance to the sustainable development goals.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Second stakeholder workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact The research team presented an overview of the project alongside its value and potential impact. Activities were then carried out to discuss and understand how stakeholders perceived the natural and human systems changing into the future. The workshop sparked much discussion and interest from participants and led to new data sources being identified as well as interest in how research outputs could be used to help inform policy in the future. The outcomes from the workshop also informed the researcher of important trends in natural and socioeconomic processes and how these may change into the future.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Sister Nivedita University media interviews 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Undergraduate students
Results and Impact TV and radio interview given by research team members for Sister Nivedita University's TV and radio station. Interviews discussed UN sustainable development goals in relation to the project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Third Stakeholder workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Online workshop to gain feedback from Stakeholders on the present research findings and observations of the project. Discussions were held on future development scenarios for the study region and the future of mangrove forest. Breakout sessions and discussions were held on several topics including land use change, poverty, changing livelihoods, climate change and agriculture, fisheries and aquaculture. Stakeholder gained knowledge of the projects research progress and were able to raise questions they had and advice for future directions of research. The workshop also resulted in knowledge regarding how stakeholders perceived the delta changing into the future and their aspirations for the regions development. Researchers gained valuable information on livelihood practices and land use within the study area.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description expert engagement on agriculture and water demand in the Sundarban Biosphere Reserve 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Online workshop (2 hours) attended by ~ 10 experts in the area of agriculture and water use in the Sundarban Biosphere Reserve. The workshop aimed to gain feedback from local experts on recent land use, climate and agricultural modelling activities and determine where their interests lay for further analysis. The workshop resulted in fruitful discussions on irrigation and options for increasing fresh water storage/supply in the region. Experts were interested in the teams initial findings and provided advice on the direction of future analysis.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021