Manhattan College Professor Pamela Chasek Among International Researchers Calling for Major Reforms of the UN Sustainable Development Goals

The political science professor is a co-author of an article published on September 15 in the journal Science.

Pamela Chasek, Ph.D., professor of political science, has co-authored an article in the journal Science called Four Governance Reforms to Strengthen the SDGs. The article calls for this week’s United Nations summit to review the state of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), paving the way for four major changes in how the SDGs are implemented and governed globally. The SDG summit is being held on September 18 and 19. In 2015, governments agreed upon 17 global goals to guide action towards a prosperous and sustainable future. Research has shown that since then, SDGs have had little political impact. UN Sustainable Goals

The article, based on research led by Utrecht University in the Netherlands, brought together a group of scholars with broad expertise in global sustainability governance.

“We are at the halfway mark to achieve the SDGs by 2030 and we have moved backward, not forward,” said Chasek. “Now is the moment for change. Governments must urgently launch a process to reform and strengthen the SDG framework so we can ensure a healthy, peaceful and sustainable future for people and the planet."

First, the expert group is calling for SDGs to be strengthened in a way that commits high-income countries to stronger and more concrete action. So far, wealthier countries often focus on those SDGs that they can most easily achieve, and the agenda’s universal approach may be obscuring unequal global consumption and emissions patterns. Also, with inadequate finance holding back SDG implementation in the global south, stronger commitments by high-income countries to equitable financing solutions are needed.

Second, the SDGs must be adjusted to new challenges, improved scientific understanding, and past failures in implementation. The goals must become more adaptable to escalating crises of ecological breakdown, global pandemics, and rising inequalities, and the UN should introduce regular review rounds where countries can adjust their ambitions to evolving global circumstances.

Third, the SDGs are not legally binding and are often merely vague commitments. While this approach has helped to bring all governments together under the broad banner of the SDGs, it is no longer enough. Instead, governments must together take steps to turn at least parts of the SDGs into binding international law. The authors highlight the ongoing negotiations for an international treaty to end plastic pollution as an example, which is linked to SDG 12 (Sustainable Production and Consumption).

Fourth, many SDGs are poorly embedded in the structures, policies, practices and norms of local, national and international institutions and political systems. Governments need to build stronger institutions, both internationally and at home, to make the SDGs a fundamental part of how they operate and make decisions. To support this, the researchers argue that much stronger global oversight of the SDGs is needed. One option would be the creation of a UN Council on Sustainable Development as a major center of global sustainability coordination in the UN system. They also draw on recent research showing the SDGs are making notable impact through the work of cities, provinces, and parts of civil society, arguing that strengthening these networks can also play a key role in accelerating the SDG agenda.

“Our research has shown that the SDGs lack any sizable impact on political systems,” said Frank Biermann, Ph.D., professor of global sustainability governance at Utrecht University in the Netherlands and the lead author of this study. He continues, “Now is the moment for change. Governments must urgently launch a process to strengthen the SDG framework through four make-or-break reform measures.”