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The Nexus between International Law and the Sustainable Development Goals

Kim, Rakhyun E. 2016. The Nexus between International Law and the Sustainable Development Goals. RECIEL (Review of European, Comparative & International Environmental Law), 25 (1): 15-26.


The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 targets did not emerge from, and were not inserted into, a normative vacuum. They are grounded in international law and made consistent with existing commitments expressed in various international legal instruments. Naturally, a nexus exists between international law and these global priorities. This article explores how to harness that nexus for sustainability. It examines to what extent the SDGs might be instrumental in orchestrating international institutions towards the common objective of sustainable development, and how international law provides a normative environment for the SDGs. The article argues that, although self-proclaimed as integrated and indivisible, the SDGs and targets reflect the fragmented structure of international law, and therefore would have limited utility for orchestration. The article then discusses how international law, despite its fragmented nature, provides integration tools that could address trade-offs between competing targets in a principled manner. A clear, long-term vision for sustainable development beyond 2030 is a necessary but absent leverage point in the SDG framework. It would define the point where the interacting SDGs and targets should ultimately converge.

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