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Governance through global goals

Marjanneke J. Vijge, Frank Biermann, Rakhyun E. Kim, Maya Bogers,
Melan Ie Van Dr Iel, Francesco S. Montesano, Abbie Yunita
and Norichika Kanie


Foundational text

In recent years, a relatively new mechanism of global governance has gained
prominence: the use of broad global policy goals to orchestrate the activities of
governments, international organizations, civil society, the private sector, and
eventually all citizens of the world. Global governance through goal-setting
works through the joint commitment of all governments to collective policy
ambitions. These ambitions are then enshrined in the form of multilaterally
agreed goals that are not legally binding but come with more specific targets,
indicators and time frames, all of which are expected to steer public and private
actors collectively into desired trajectories (Kanie and Biermann 2017). While
governance through global goal-setting has featured in global governance since
the second half of the twentieth century, its role has become much stronger in the
last two decades (Fukuda-Parr 2014). The Millennium Development Goals,
agreed by the United Nations in 2000, were a first attempt at comprehensive
global steering through goals. But global goal-setting has gained much more
importance when the United Nations General Assembly agreed, in 2015, on 17
Sustainable Development Goals to be implemented by 2030.
Like other attempts at global governance through goal-setting, the Sustainable
Development Goals share four key characteristics (Biermann, Kanie and Kim
2017). First, they are not legally binding and cannot be enforced as law within
national or international adjudication. Second, they are marked by weak institutional arrangements that are not supported by international treaty organizations,
formal monitoring agencies, strong dispute settlement bodies and the like. Third,
they are meant to be highly inclusive, covering all countries and sectors of society.
Fourth, they are broadly framed and hence leave much leeway to national implementation and interpretation. While none of these characteristics is specific to this
type of governance, the combination of these four characteristics amounts to
a unique approach to global governance.
In this chapter, we review recent literature on these four key characteristics of
governance through global goals. We first conceptualize governance through goals
as a mechanism of global governance. We then delve into key literature around the
four main characteristics of governance through goals, with a view to understanding how they affect the performance of governance architectures. We then distill
how these characteristics, taken together, can affect governance architectures, for
instance by leading to new actor constellations, by galvanizing efforts and by
transforming or creating new institutions. Thereafter, we identify future research
directions that might help increase understanding of whether and how global goals
could effectively deal with the challenges that result from the institutional complexity of global governance architectures.

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