Snapshot: 'International Law and Global Governance' (2021)
"When we look at the ways in which global governance mechanisms and national governments have responded to Covid-19 with recovery plans emphasising the role of environmental considerations, addressing climate change, enhancing all aspects of healthcare access, promoting sustainable economic reforms and addressing human rights and equity issues, to name only a few areas, this can be seen as grounds for optimism"
'International Law and Global Governance' (2021) explores the methods through which international law and its associated innovative global governance mechanisms can strengthen, foster and scale up the impacts of treaty regimes and international law on the ability to implement global governance mechanisms. In this 'Snapshot', Alexandra Harrington (Canada, 2019/20) discusses the book and the impact that Covid-19 has had on global governance initiatives.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are the successors to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which were the initial statement of the international community’s priority areas to address at the dawn of the new millennium. While the MDGs were relatively few – 8 overall – and quite aspirational in language, the SDGs are far more extensive – 17 overall, with over 160 targets for their implementation and several hundred statistical and data-driven indicators of assessment.
The SDGs are considered soft law because they are recommended but not legal binding on national governments, although all nations have agreed to take steps to implement them and there is an oversight mechanism in place to review their implementation at set intervals. Just as the MDGs were only intended to be in place for 15 years and expired in 2015, the SDGs are intended to be in place between 2015 and 2030, but their impacts on all aspects of law and society will surely extend beyond this point.
International Law and Global Governance: The importance of critical analysis
Global governance is often referred to as ‘fuzzy’ or otherwise weak in relation to critical areas such as enforcement and conflict resolution. This is a somewhat simplistic classification in that it fails to address the ways in which global governance mechanisms can be analysed across a number of topics and also sectors. The outcomes of this analysis allow us to better understand the design and functioning of global governance mechanisms, including organizations and treaty-based regimes, as well as soft law and customary law regimes. This understanding is essential for the future of global governance systems and, given the status of the SDGs as soft law global governance mechanisms which are reflected across treaty regimes and into binding national laws, is vital to achievement of the SDGs across international, national and sub-national levels.
The impact of COVID-19
The pandemic has caused many of us to take stock of what is essential to our own lives as well as the lives of our families and communities, and the same can be said of nations and global governance systems. In the SDG context, current evidence indicates that the Covid-19 pandemic has had a negative impact on progress toward SDG achievement by 2030. However, when we look at the ways in which global governance mechanisms and national governments have responded with recovery plans emphasising the role of environmental considerations, addressing climate change, enhancing all aspects of healthcare access, promoting sustainable economic reforms and addressing human rights and equity issues, to name only a few areas, this can be seen as grounds for optimism about achieving the SDGs by 2030. There will be many obstacles, yet the simple fact that this is a topic of discussion at all levels is an advancement in mainstreaming the SDGs into the broader governance conversation.
Dr. Alexandra Harrington is the Executive Director of the Center for Global Governance and Emerging Law and a Visiting Assistant Professor of Law at Albany Law School, where her teaching focuses on international law issues. She is also Research Director of the Centre for International Sustainable Development Law and the Director of Studies for ILA Colombia. She has held two Fulbright terms in Canada at the Balsillie School of International Affairs, focusing on global governance issues.
Dr. Harrington is the author and co-editor of several books, including International Organizations and the Law and International Law and Global Governance: Treaty Regimes and Sustainable Development Goals Implementation. She advises international organizations and governments on governance issues, environmental law, legal issues relating to climate change, sustainable development and international human rights law. She holds a Doctorate of Civil Law (McGill University Faculty of Law), in addition to a JD, LL.M. and BA degrees in Politics and History.