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Coherent Governance, the UN and the SDGs

Bernstein, Steven, Joyeeta Gupta, Steinar Andresen, Peter M. Haas, Norichika Kanie, Marcel Kok, Marc A. Levy, Casey Stevens. 2014. Coherent Governance, the UN and the SDGs. Post2015 / UNU-IAS Policy Brief, Nr. 4.


The International Workshop on Governance ‘of’ and ‘for’ Sustainable Development Goals, held 1 February 2014, in New York, USA, resulted in a series of policy briefs, whereof this is the fourth.

Key messages of Policy Brief #4:

  1. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) require appropriate institutional support to integrate them effectively into institutions and practices, to coordinate activities, and to mobilize resources for implementation. The High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) can be a lead “orchestrator of orchestrators” towards these ends, but will require high-level participation, innovative modalities for North-South dialogue, and links with “intermediaries” within and outside of the UN.
  2. Monitoring and review processes are crucial to ensure accountability, facilitate learning among countries and stakeholders, and incentivize implementation processes. Reviews should be systemic, science-based and multi-dimensional, and focus on commitments and actions of countries, international institutions, and non-state actors and networks. The quadrennial United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) meetings of the HLPF could consider revisions or modifications of the SDGs over time as new knowledge becomes available.
  3. State-led mutual review of national sustainable development progress mandated under the HLPF could be organized around common challenges – for example countries coping with megacities or running out of water. Such reviews would provide systemic evaluations rather than focus only on specific goals. International institutions should be reviewed on their progress in mainstreaming SDGs and targets into their work programs or adequately focusing on areas unaddressed by other stakeholders. These reviews should be considered nodes in a wider system of review and accountability.
  4. The new Global Sustainable Development Report (a collection of assessments and reviews by UN and other actors), part of the HLPF’s mandate to improve the science-policy interface, should not simply collect other reviews, but also bring together knowledge required to fill implementation gaps and identify cause-effect relationships and transition pathways, possibly overseen by a meta-science panel.
  5. Governance of the SDGs should be designed to mobilize action and resources at multiple levels and through diverse mixes of government and non-state actors, partnerships, and action networks. This diversity in means of implementation must be balanced by state-led mechanisms to ensure accountability, responsibility, coherence and capacity to incentivize long-term investments for sustainable development. 

The workshop was organized by the United Nations University Institute for the Advanced Study of Sustainability (UNU-IAS), the Earth System Governance Project and the POST2015 project (hosted by Tokyo Institute of Technology and sponsored by Ministry of Environment, Japan). It brought together international scholars and practitioners with expertise on global environmental governance to discuss some key questions relating to the governance of, and governance for, the post-2015 development agenda. The scope of the workshop was the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with particular focus on how integrated SDGs (of development and environmental agenda) could be governed in the post-2015 era.

Future briefs and reports will be published as they become available.

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