Scoping article: Research frontiers on the governance of the Sustainable Development Goals

Thomas Hickmann*, Frank Biermann, Carole Anne Sénit, Yixian Sun, Magdalena Bexell, Mitzi Bolton, Basil Bornemann, Jecel Censoro, Aurelie Charles, Dominique Coy, Frederik Dahlmann, Mark Elder, Felicitas Fritzsche, Thiago Gehre Galvão, Jarrod Grainger-Brown, Cristina Inoue, Kristina Jönsson, Montserrat Koloffon Rosas, Kerstin Krellenberg, Enayat MoallemiIvonne Lobos Alva, Shirin Malekpour, Dianty Ningrum, Aneliya Paneva, Lena Partzsch, Rodrigo Ramiro, Rob Raven, Eszter Szedlacsek, John Thompson, Melanie Van Driel, Jéssica Viani Damasceno, Robert Webb, Sabine Weiland

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Non-Technical Summary This article takes stock of the 2030 Agenda and focuses on five governance areas. In a nutshell, we see a quite patchy and often primarily symbolic uptake of the global goals. Although some studies highlight individual success stories of actors and institutions to implement the goals, it remains unclear how such cases can be upscaled and develop a broader political impact to accelerate the global endeavor to achieve sustainable development. We hence raise concerns about the overall effectiveness of governance by goal-setting and raise the question of how we can make this mode of governance more effective. Technical Summary A recent meta-analysis on the political impact of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) has shown that these global goals are moving political processes forward only incrementally, with much variation across countries, sectors, and governance levels. Consequently, the realization of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development remains uncertain. Against this backdrop, this article explores where and how incremental political changes are taking place due to the SDGs, and under what conditions these developments can bolster sustainability transformations up to 2030 and beyond. Our scoping review builds upon an online expert survey directed at the scholarly community of the 'Earth System Governance Project' and structured dialogues within the 'Taskforce on the SDGs' under this project. We identified five governance areas where some effects of the SDGs have been observable: (1) global governance, (2) national policy integration, (3) subnational initiatives, (4) private governance, and (5) education and learning for sustainable development. This article delves deeper into these governance areas and draws lessons to guide empirical research on the promises and pitfalls of accelerating SDG implementation. Social Media Summary As SDG implementation lags behind, this article explores 5 governance areas asking how to strengthen the global goals.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere7
JournalGlobal Sustainability
Publication statusPublished - 24 Jan 2024


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