Workshop Report Highlights Role of Governance for the Sustainable Development Goals

Earth System Governance Project • May 1st, 2014
Workshop Report Highlights Role of Governance for the Sustainable Development Goals

A new UNU-IAS report, in collaboration with the Earth System Governance Project and the POST2015 Project, examines the role of governance in developing and achieving the sustainable development goals (SDGs). The report, led by UNU-IAS Senior Research Fellow and Earth System Governance Steering Committee member Norichika Kanie, presents ideas generated at an international workshop held in New York on 1 February 2014, which brought together over 40 experts involved in the SDG process.

A key part of the international process to formulate a post-2015 development agenda is the creation of a limited number of sustainable development goals, with negotiations ongoing within the United Nations to develop these SDGs and to provide the necessary financing. While issues of governance have been emphasized at prominent points in the discussions, they have not been fully explored.

The International Workshop on Governance “of” and “for” Sustainable Development Goals engaged international scholars and practitioners to explore these governance issues, focusing on the architecture of the SDGs, their implementation and evaluation, and the role of UN institutions. The workshop was organized by UNU-IAS, the Earth System Governance Project, and the POST2015 research project (which is hosted by Tokyo Institute of Technology and sponsored by the Ministry of the Environment, Japan).

The report highlights the need to make governance a central issue in the SDG agenda. It suggests that even the best designed and funded goals and targets are likely to have significant limitations, unless attention is paid to national implementation and international governance for support and monitoring. The need to view governance as an essential enabling condition for the SDGs is widely acknowledged, and was reflected in the outcome document of the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development.

The workshop and report are unique in focusing on how governance can be included in the SDG process. Five key messages from the workshop are highlighted in the report:

1.    The SDGs process has the opportunity to go beyond the millennium development goals (MDGs) in adopting a systemic approach which bridges efforts to eradicate poverty with social progress and environmental sustainability.

2.    Although governance is an important idea, the term itself is not understood by all countries in the same way.

3.    The best option may be for governance to be integrated into discussions on each individual issue, or to link different issues together.

4.    The SDGs should be made as inclusive as possible, with incentives created for actors in both developed and developing countries to become involved in the process and maintain their involvement.

5.    Because of diverse understandings and experiences of governance, the SDGs may need to take a differentiated approach in integrating governance issues.

The report’s lead author, Norichika Kanie, explained that “many important ideas were inspired at the New York workshop by a unique mixture of key policymakers, stakeholders and scientists. The participants highlighted the vital importance of governance aspects of SDGs, which have been somewhat neglected and overlooked by the ongoing policy debate for various political reasons. The workshop identified some ideas with regard to the way to address the important issues on governance while avoiding political problems.”

Ruben Zondervan, Executive Director of the Earth System Governance project and co-author of the report, added that “the workshop was a good example of co-design, that is, the articulation of core research questions through deliberative dialogues among researchers and policymakers. This report will thus be a valuable starting point for further research by the POST2015 Project, UNU-IAS, and the Earth System Governance global research alliance on governance ‘of’ and ‘for’ the SDGs. Three policy briefs, for example, are already in production that will elaborate in more detail some of the issues that emerged from the workshop.”

This report is the first in a series focusing on the SDGs, which will be produced by the Governance for Sustainable Development (GSD) project of UNU-IAS and the Earth System Governance project. The reports will be published on the UNU-IAS and Earth System Governance websites as they become available.

For more information, please contact Norichika Kanie ( The full report can be downloaded here (pdf)

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