Governance and the Sustainable Development Goals: The Increasing Relevance of Access Rights in Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration

Published date01 April 2016
AuthorMarcos Orellana
Date01 April 2016
Governance and the Sustainable Development
Goals: The Increasing Relevance of Access Rights
in Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration
Marcos Orellana*
The United Nations General Assembly has adopted 17
Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for the 2030
sustainable development agenda. Governance under-
lies all of the SDGs, because effective, accountable and
inclusive institutions and procedures are essential to
their realization. This article identies and describes
the features and structures of governance necessary
for the attainment of the SDGs. Drawing on Principle
10 of the Rio Declaration and other legal sources, the
article deconstructs the procedural rights which are
integral to governance for sustainable development
and emphasizes the need for effective accountability
mechanisms at various levels. The article concludes
that procedural rights and effective accountability at
all levels is the key to governance that will transform
political commitments to the 2030 sustainable devel-
opment agenda into actual realities for people on the
The Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development in
2012 renewed global commitments to ensuring an eco-
nomically, socially, and environmentally sustainable
Those global commitments are reected in the
2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by
the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in 2015,
and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
included therein lie at the heart of said 2030 Agenda.
The SDGs dene integrated, indivisible, global, univer-
sally applicable goals and targets that outline a plan of
action for people, planet and prosperity. Accordingly,
the goals and targets balance the three key dimensions
of sustainable development, including the environmen-
tal dimensions, while placing people at the centre of
sustainable development. The SDGs constitute a charter
for people and planet in the twenty-rst century to
respect and safeguard Mother Earth, secure peace and
prosperity, and reinvigorate a global partnership for
sustainable development.
This article explores the critical importance of govern-
ance for the realization of the SDGs.
Governance refers
to the legitimate exercise of authority; accordingly, it is
a concept that operates at various levels, comprises
multiple facets and dimensions, and interlinks with
other important concepts that are relevant to the real-
ization of the SDGs. Governance for sustainable devel-
opment is particularly complex, given the integration of
social, economic and environmental dimensions.
As to its various levels, governance can operate at the
global, regional, national and sub-national levels. For
example, the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable
Development (HLPF) can play an important role with
regard to global accountability for the attainment of
SDGs. Similarly, regional instruments on access rights
can also contribute to enhancing a dialogue between the
State and civil society with regard to the implementa-
tion of SDGs. While international agreements and insti-
tutions are relevant to global and regional governance,
they do not substitute for the implementation of poli-
cies, laws and other measures at the national level that
enable and promote the realization of SDGs.
As to its dimensions, governance can be said to involve
institutional and decision-making dimensions. The
decision-making dimension of governance comprises
legislative, administrative and judicial decision-making
processes, and the institutional dimension of govern-
ance concerns the work of governmental institutions. In
this regard, for example, the Rio+20 outcome document
afrms that to achieve our sustainable development
goals, we need institutions at all levels that are effective,
transparent, accountable, and democratic.
Governance has clear connections with notions of
accountability, inter- and intra-generational equity,
human rights and democracy. Governance does not just
refer to power structures, the ways decisions are taken
or the design and structuring of institutions. There are
also material, value-based concepts that underlie the
exercise of authority and enable an evaluation of its
* Corresponding author.
The Future We Want (UNGA Resolution A/RES/66/288, 11 Septem-
ber 2012), Annex, at paragraph 1.
Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Devel-
opment (UNGA Resolution A/RES/70/1, 21 October 2015) (‘2030
Agenda’), at paragraphs 8 and 9.
The Future We Want, n. 1 above, at paragraph 10.
ª2016 John Wiley & Sons Ltd, 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK and 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA.
RECIEL 25 (1) 2016. ISSN 2050-0386 DOI: 10.1111/reel.12153
Review of European Community & International Environmental Law

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