Sustainable Development Goals
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Sustainable Development Goals

Law, Theory and Implementation

Edited by Duncan French and Louis J. Kotzé

Building on the previously established Millennium Development Goals, which ran from 2000-2015, the 2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide the UN with a roadmap for development until 2030. This topical book explores the associated legal and normative implications of these SDGs, which in themselves are not legally binding.
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Chapter 10: The environment and the Sustainable Development Goals: ‘We are on a road to nowhere’

Werner Scholtz and Michelle Barnard


The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) collectively embody the global stance on the economic, social and environmental actions needed to achieve sustainable development. With reference to the environmental component of the SDG framework, one sees that four distinct Goals pertaining to different elements of planet earth, namely: the atmosphere (SDG 13), water resource – both fresh (SDG 6) and marine (SDG 14), as well as biodiversity (SDG 15) are included. The deconstruction of the environment in this way is strongly criticized by some as a step back from the single Millennium Development Goal (MDG) dealing with environmental sustainability (MDG 7) contained in the Millennium Declaration, 2000. The current approach to achieving sustainable development is now fragmented along the lines of the above-mentioned silo-ist division. Another point of criticism against the SDGs framework is the lack of explicit reference to international legal instruments pertaining to individual SDGs. This general critique is to some extent also true of the specific environmental SDGs where we see little cross-referencing to international environmental law that could provide a more solid legal base for the enforcement of the SDGs – which are legally non-binding. It is, however, possible to read in implicit references to a number of international environmental law instruments when analysing the wording of the Targets which underpin the individual environmental SDGs. In this chapter the legal nature of the SDGs, the fragmentation of the environment and the potential role of binding international law in solidifying the legal nature of the 2030 Agenda will be discussed in order to answer the question we pose in the title: the environment and the SDGs – are we on a road to nowhere?

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