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.
ASJC Scopus subject areas