Rules to goals: emergence of new governance strategies for sustainable development: Governance for global sustainability is undergoing a major transformation from rule-based to goal-based. But with no compliance measures, success will require an unprecedented level of coherency of action founded on new and reformed institutions nationally and internationally

Norichika Kanie, David Griggs, Oran Young, Steve Waddell, Paul Shrivastava, Peter M. Haas, Wendy Broadgate, Owen Gaffney, Csaba Kőrösi

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debate


The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Agreement on climate are the key international agreements to deliver a sustainable future. They are a compromise between the scientifically necessary and politically possible to achieve global sustainability. Agreed in 2015, they constitute a radical departure for international policy with no precedents and are beginning to shape national policy, civil society and business decisions. We argue that these new frameworks represent the most important institutional innovation to emerge in recent years. They mark a shift away from international rule-making towards a system based on goal setting. This reflects a theory of societal steering or what we commonly think of as governance that differs sharply from mainstream regulatory systems by Pauwelyn et al. (Eur J Int Law 24:733–763, 2014). Given that achieving the Paris Agreement and the SDGs will require transformation of societies at all levels, it remains unclear how existing instruments, policies, and even institutions will adapt to this new global governance strategy. The key to success, we argue, will be “action coherence”, whereby actions initiated to fulfill individual SDGs are coherent across efforts to achieve the full set of SDGs over the long run.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1745-1749
Number of pages5
JournalSustainability Science
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2019 Nov 1



  • Action coherency
  • Governance
  • SDGs
  • Sustainable development

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Health(social science)
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Ecology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law

Cite this