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Integrating Governance into the Sustainable Development Goals

Biermann, Frank, Casey Stevens, Steven Bernstein, Aarti Gupta, Ngeta Kabiri, Norichika Kanie, Marc Levy, Måns Nilsson, László Pintér, Michelle Scobie and Oran R. Young. 2014. Integrating Governance into the Sustainable Development Goals. Post2015 / UNU-IAS Policy Brief, Nr. 3.


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 third.

Key messages of Policy Brief #3:

  1. Governance must be a crucial part of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). However, there are also different ways of integrating key aspects of governance into the SDGs. Much of the discussions for the SDGs has revolved around either having a stand-alone governance goal or integrating governance into other goals on specific issues (e.g. goals on poverty reduction, water, food).
  2. Three aspects of governance need to be considered: good governance (the processes of decisionmaking and their institutional foundations), effective governance (the capacity of countries to pursue sustainable development), and equitable governance (distributive outcomes). While these three different aspects have a number of connections between them, the three aspects will require separate political efforts. To most fully integrate governance into the SDGs, it is important to take account of all three aspects of governance when shaping the goals and targets.
  3. If governance was addressed as a stand-alone SDG, then this would offer the best opportunity to comprehensively incorporate all three aspects of governance into a post-2015 development agenda. However, because of existing indicators of governance and actor coalitions organized around specific issues, the risk remains that good governance might be privileged over effective governance or equitable governance.
  4. Conversely, if governance is integrated into issue-specific goals, then this would offer opportunities to build from existing policy experience about how different governance arrangements shape relevant outcomes. While this strength is important, pursuing governance in this manner is less likely to be comprehensive. Awareness of this limitation will be important in spurring creative and ambitious governance targets on all issues in the SDGs.

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.

The resulting policy briefs were officially released at the policy forum: ‘Governance’, ‘Education’ and the Architecture of the Sustainable Development Goals, held 22 May 2014, in New York and co-organized by UNU Institute for the Advanced Study of Sustainability (UNU-IAS) and the POST2015 Project (hosted by Tokyo Institute of Technology). This event aims to inform discussions taking place at the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by identifying key questions relating to the architecture and implementation of the SDGs.

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