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This chapter takes stock of the political impact of the Sustainable Development Goals within countries. It explores the various initiatives taken by national governments, sub-national authorities, the corporate sector and civil society, and assesses their strategies and approaches to implement the Sustainable Development Goals in their spheres. The chapter finds that the steering effects of the global goals are so far mainly present in political discourse. While we also witness the emergence of new types of institutions, relationships and partnerships, they apparently reproduce existing structures and priorities of key players, indicating selective goal implementation. What we observe the least are steering effects on the (re-)allocation of resources. Thus, the chapter suggests that the Sustainable Development Goals are not (yet) leading to fundamental change and the voluntary nature of the 2030 Agenda makes it fairly easy for actors to implement the global goals in a way that benefits their self-interests.
Governance through goals, a relatively new global governance mechanism, has recently gained prominence, particularly since the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals. Through this mechanism, internationally agreed policy goals orchestrate the activities of governmental and non-governmental actors. This chapter argues that governance through goals has important effects on governance architectures and their degree and type of fragmentation. To analyze these effects, we review literature around four characteristics of governance through goals: their non-legally binding nature, weak global institutional arrangements, inclusive goal-setting processes and national leeway. We argue that alternative forms of bindingness, such as reporting and accountability mechanisms, can steer actors toward a shared vision. This may result in synergistic fragmentation if broad support is obtained through inclusive processes. However, tensions and cherry-picking may arise when goals are prioritized and implemented. Further research on the effects of governance through goals is crucial given that it is likely to maintain – and gain – importance in earth system governance.
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