Another water related planetary boundary is ‘freshwater consumption and the global hydrological cycle’. Nathan Cooper considers in Chapter 18 the current state of law and governance relating to freshwater conservation and consumption, including in particular the application and evolution of an international human right to water, integrated water resources management, and Sustainable Development Goal 6: Clean Water and Sanitation. Between them, these regulatory domains make explicit claims to the fundamentality of a right to water, to water’s essential developmental role, and to the need for sustainable water governance over the long term. The chapter details the many institutional and operational challenges facing efforts to realise sustainable water use through each of these domains. It also argues that implicit assumptions exist within each of these domains around limitless supply and commodification. Such assumptions support an anthropocentric cosmology, which fetishizes a neoliberal market paradigm, and in so doing, drains the transformative power latent in each of these domains. Central to this is the myth that humanity can continue to consume and develop, unbounded by the physical finitude of Earth’s systems, while it significantly undermines the ability of the international legal order to adequately respond to the Anthropocene challenge of fast approaching planetary boundaries. The chapter proposes that the destructive myth of human mastery must be rejected if water security is to be achieved. In its place we must reconnect our societies with the realities of the biosphere’s limits, so that safe and just water governance, across regulatory domains, can emerge.
Nathan Cooper and Duncan French
As the final Global Goal, SDG 17’s principal function is to establish partnerships in support of the achievement of the other Sustainable Development Goals. It includes targets in such areas as overseas development assistance, debt sustainability, technology transfer, capacity building, and international trade. It reflects a pattern set in the Millennium Development Goals, where the final goal is also the most instrumental, in that case MDG 8, which sought to establish a ‘Global Partnership for Development’. SDG 17 underscores the importance of cooperation in the attainment of global development, recognising more broadly that partnerships are fundamental to the achievement of sustainable development. And yet SDG 17 also reveals many of the contradictions within the primarily voluntarist nature of the international community’s approach to development. SDG 17 is reflective of an approach that possesses strong moral injunction but weak normative commitment. Thus, the chapter provides a critical analysis of SDG 17, focusing on three distinct issues. First, whether on their own terms, the targets within the Goal will contribute to the achievement of effective partnerships, or whether the systemic hurdles towards institutional reform remain as great as they always have done. Secondly, how far SDG 17 weakens still further the normative argument as to the existence of a positive obligation in international law on development cooperation. And thirdly, in the context of seeking to achieve the right to water in a domestic setting, how far SDG 17 provides legal certainty to such partnerships, especially those involving civil society. The chapter concludes that while SDG 17 promotes partnerships it has not given sufficient guidance to states in implementing them. The innate voluntarism of the cooperation that supports the Global Goals ultimately puts at risk their effective attainment, and there thus remains a necessity for the development of supportive legal frameworks.