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Global Governance through Goals? Assessing and Explaining the Steering Effects of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - GlobalGoals (Global Governance through Goals? Assessing and Explaining the Steering Effects of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals)

Reporting period: 2018-11-01 to 2020-04-30

Achieving sustainable development worldwide remains probably the biggest political challenge of our time. In 2015, the international community adopted 17 ‘Sustainable Development Goals’ with no less than 169 ‘targets’ as part of a global ‘2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’. The ambition expressed in these goals is unprecedented. But can such goal-setting, as a new central approach in global governance, help resolve the pressing challenges of economic development, poverty eradication, social justice and global environmental protection? Nobody knows at this stage. While the United Nations and its member states place high hopes on this novel strategy, there is little scientific knowledge on whether such global goals can live up to exceedingly high expectations. Sustainability research has tended to focus on concrete institutions, actors and practices – not on aspirational goals that bring little in terms of normative specificity, stable regime formation or compliance mechanisms. How can ‘global governance through goals’ nonetheless be effective – and under which conditions?
GLOBALGOALS will address this puzzle and break new ground in sustainability and global governance theories. It offers the first and most comprehensive data compilation, network mapping and comparative institutional analysis of the evolution, effectiveness and future prospects of ‘global governance through goals’ as a central novel steering mechanism in world politics. This 5–year study programme deploys a unique set of cutting-edge methodologies, including social network analysis and online surveys, to assess and explain the steering effects of nine Sustainable Development Goals through a detailed investigation of their institutional arrangements and actor networks, at international and national levels. GLOBALGOALS makes a crucial knowledge contribution to both the theory of global sustainability governance and the successful implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Four PhD projects have been started successfully, with all four PhD student having finalized their first paper, ready for submission to a good journal.
Two Postdocs have been hired, and their sub projects have started successfully.
A close team of faculty members at Utrecht University has been formed (not billed on the ERC).
An edited volume has been published, ARCHITECTURES OF EARTH SYSTEM GOVERNANCE, which lays parts of the conceptual groundwork of the project. All team members have publications in that volume, along with external collaborators. Publisher: Cambridge UP.
A conference with more than 1000 participants has been organised virtually on 9-11 June 2020. This was the major kickoff event for GLOBALGOALS.
In terms of outreach, we have a large network of international collaborators. with whom we will organise a next conference in early 2021 in Sussex.
We have a website and an active twitter handle, along with a newsletter.
This project is still in an early stage, but we are proud of what we have achieved. It is too early to speak of results. Overall, our project might eventually veer in the direction of a negative, pessimistic assessment of the effectiveness of the Sustainable Development Goals.