Global Sustainability Governance and Integration

Sustainable Development Goals

Global sustainability is a societal challenge that reaches far beyond the implementation of individual goals such as Life on Land or Clean Water and Sanitation. At the Copernicus Institute, we hence pay close attention to the overall governance problems posed by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the overarching 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. We also study the political challenges that cut across all SDGs, as well as the overall integration and interactions of the 17 goals.

For one, there is no doubt that the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals poses fundamental questions of national and international equity and justice. This challenge has been fully recognised by the United Nations in assigning one SDG solely to the need to reduce global and national inequalities (SDG 10), and another one to achieve gender equality (SDG 5). Also, the system of SDGs has been framed in a way that places the eradication of poverty and hunger front and centre of the SDG agenda (SDGs 1 and 2), emphasising especially the situation of the poorest billion of humankind. At the Copernicus Institute, we contribute to this challenge, for instance, by launching a new global research network on ‘Planetary Justice’ in order to strengthen research on the global injustices that are blocking achievement of all SDGs.

Strong and effective institutions

Secondly, implementing the SDGs requires us to intensify our research on the political institutions that are at the centre of implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, including core concerns of accountability, legitimacy, democracy, and strong and effective institutions. For that reason, at Copernicus we see SDG 16 as a cornerstone of the sustainability agenda, and focus much of our activities in the Environmental Governance group on achieving progress towards this goal.


Thirdly, the launch of the 17 SDGs, as a new central mechanism of global politics, poses novel research questions on the eventual effectiveness of global goals and targets. Will the simple act that the United Nations agreed in 2015 on 17 global goals really advance national politics and sustainability governance? In 2018, we have been awarded a major grant from the European Research Council to study this very question: whether the global goals have any steering effects in practice, and how the effectiveness of the global goals can be supported by better policies and institutions worldwide.

A larger system

Finally, at Copernicus we do not see the SDGs in isolation. Instead, we view each SDG as part of a larger system, and place great emphasis on the integrated assessment of the 17 SDGs and their integration in a global perspective and analysis, which also assesses progress over time in an integrated manner.