The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) demonstrate an integration of development and environmental agendas. However, none of the environmental sub-targets, which were due by 2020, were accomplished. Global governance through goal setting requires functioning mechanisms of accountability. Based on a theoretical framework that differentiates between public, private and voluntary logic of accountability, the article illustratively explores accountability mechanisms concerning the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This allows to discuss the untapped potential for holding power wielders, such as governments, private companies, and norm champions, accountable. While the SDGs were adopted within public governance institutions, there are regulative means of accountability available that follow private and voluntary logic. Acknowledging this hybrid character of accountability in the implementation stage, the article concludes that there is a need for additional research to explore dimensions of non-public accountability for goals agreed upon by the international community. SDG indicators should be mandatory for corporate reporting, and civil society organisations should report more comprehensively on the spread of environmental norms in global development.
- Global governance through goal setting requires functioning mechanisms of accountability. With humans dramatically accelerating global environmental change, we need to use all options to hold power wielders to account and ensure policy impact.
- Governments of countries most affected by the environmental change should take the lead in shaming large polluters, and parliaments should have more influence in formal mechanisms of monitoring and surveillance.
- Civil society organizations (CSOs) and citizens have started to take legal action against governments and corporations through public courts and have thereby demonstrated their relevance in holding power wielders accountable. However, CSOs should uptake environmental norms more comprehensively and systematically report on implementation deficits other than climate change.
- The international community agreed upon the 17 SDGs with 169 sub-targets and 244 indicators, including Tier I indicators, for which internationally established methodology and standards are available. They serve to measure progress and compare the performance of nation-states. There is a need to discuss the nature of these indicators, and how they can be adapted to corporate conduct. The High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) should collect SDG-based corporate reports and prepare rankings, which would make ‘naming and shaming’ corporate players easier.
Photo by Arthur Ogleznev