Way Forward towards Sustainability in 21st CE

Way Forward towards Sustainability in 21st CE

Ankit Pandey | December 5, 2022 | The Swaniti Blog

New (global) vision of sustainable development governance

Although the institutional framework for sustainable development has been the subject of decades’ worth of
scholarly and political debate, the process has yet to demonstrate signs of expectations coming together.
The issues and political dynamics in the twenty-first century are different from those of 1945 when the
United Nations system was developed. Today’s problems are more intense and more diverse,
characterised by temporal, spatial, and sectoral interdependencies, and complexity, as well as uncertainty.
Some advancements toward sustainability have been made possible via incremental changes. However,
given the quantity, significance, interconnection, and complexity of issues related to climate change, the
framework now in place for controlling sustainable development is insufficient. A radical reform of
sustainable development governance is necessary.



Non-linear, sudden, and irreversible changes are not only possible but also probable in the highly dynamic,
human-dominated earth system in which we live. Objectives, underlying values, and norms, as well as
knowledge and uncertainty, must be clarified and operationalised for governance for sustainability in the
"anthropocene" age, a new geological era in which human behaviour significantly alters the earth system.
Since the establishment of the post-World War II institutions, governance objectives have evolved
dramatically, necessitating modifications to governance frameworks. The priorities, strategies, and
normative as well as qualitative sustainability goals should be discussed by the global community.

Regarding this, the growing conversation on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which align with and
complement the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), could evolve into a significant political goal, giving
it impetus and bringing it to public notice. How the SDGs might be positioned alongside the successful
MDGs, which remain of great relevance and importance, need to be carefully considered.
Additionally, it has become clear that strategies for sustainability governance based on economic principles
are inadequate and contribute to unsustainable development. When gauging development, there is an
obvious need to look beyond GDP and market values. Considerations of ecological services, human well-
being and quality of life are significant additional values, as are the non-anthropocentric values of other
living things.

There are also alternative measures to GDP, such as the Human Development Index (HDI). A small suite
of indices that must be pursued simultaneously and without making compromises could be produced as a
result of further development of the objectives of sustainable development and methodologies. This
indicator would combine variables from each of the three pillars of sustainable development. If institutional
and financial support is given, this has the potential to be a helpful and pertinent policy tool.


Sustainable governance requires that individuals participate meaningfully and responsibly and provide
solutions that benefit people. The evolving nature of governance and the problems of global change have
engaged a wide variety and a large number of non-State actors. the UN’s intergovernmental
system’s non-State actor inclusion mechanisms fall short and are not really inclusive (thus often leading to

Given this, adding a mechanism of checks and balances (between Governments and non-State entities)
that may be motivated by the example of the EU Parliament in relation to the EU Council could be one
method to improve representation in the current intergovernmental system. Consideration should also be
given to the possibility of paralysis while designing such a device. Sustainability governance requires
mechanisms that allow for the meaningful participation of other actors, such as highly regarded individuals
or organisations, cities, communities, and social movements.

Information technologies, particularly social media, also have the potential to help with sustainable
governance by giving those who have been excluded from decision-making a voice and by promoting and
facilitating cross-border contact and debate. The legitimacy and accountability of decentralised
participation, such as referendums, remain contentious, partly because these technologies are not widely
accessible and affordable.

Thus, a governance structure with a wider variety of tools is required due to the rise of new actors. Even if
States are the main players, accountable and efficient governance is essential for sustainability. Public-
private partnerships and greater private governance are options. Safeguards must be in place to guarantee
the legitimacy and responsibility of non-State actors.


It is necessary to redesign the sustainability governance architecture to include improved institutions,
decision-making processes, and levels of integration. A number of factors, such as the following, must be
taken into consideration when evaluating proposals for the necessary revolutionary changes in the
architecture of governance for sustainability:
1. Membership: significant participatory methods that take into account power imbalances between
nation-States, non-State actors, and other social groups;
2. Funding: Suitable and consistent financing levels;
3. Mandate: Suitable authority and effectiveness;
4. Compliance and Implementation: Sufficient ability to deal with compliance and implementation;
5. Adaptability: Effective, adaptable strategies include network strategies, dynamic criteria for all
selection and decision-making procedures to reflect changes in social and natural systems, and
sunset clauses and scheduled re-chartering periods in agreements; and
6. Accountability: strong accountability and transparency safeguards

The absence of suitable arrangements for one or more of these criteria will jeopardise prospects for
transformative change.


A reorganised institutional framework for sustainable development that would enhance governance, such
as an SDG Council, is proposed, drawing on the debate of ambitions, actors, and architecture. This should
comprise rotating member States (those most impacted by specific concerns), non-State (civil society)
players, and primary member States (countries with strong potential to contribute), chosen based on a set
of criteria such as GDP.

The SDG Council might establish a dual-chamber arrangement, with governments on one side and issue-
specific members from non-State players on the other, taking into consideration the evolving nature of
governance gradually and over the medium to long term.

The necessary strengthening of the environmental pillar of sustainable development (such as upgrading
UNEP) should not be left out of the intellectual and political concerns and formation of an SDG Council.
Additionally, it needs to happen in a setting where economic governance is strengthened, and participants
are engaged meaningfully.

Importantly, for sustainability, transformative governance reform is required in addition to fundamental
changes to the economic system. In this sense, the institutional framework for sustainable development
should be connected with the green economy. And finally, establishing a constitution of governance for
sustainable development that better reflects the problems of the twenty-first century could be a structured