Achieving worldwide sustainable development remains the biggest political challenge of our time. In 2015, the international community adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals with no less than 169 ‘targets’ as part of a global 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The ambition expressed in these goals is unprecedented. But can such goal-setting, as a new central approach in global governance, help resolve the pressing challenges of economic development, poverty eradication, social justice and global environmental protection? Nobody knows at this stage. While the United Nations and its member states place high hopes on this novel strategy, there is little scientific knowledge on whether such global goals can live up to exceedingly high expectations.

Sustainability research has tended to focus on concrete institutions, actors and practices – not on aspirational goals that bring little in terms of normative specificity, stable regime formation or compliance mechanisms.

How can global governance through goals nonetheless be effective – and under which conditions? GLOBALGOALS was designed to address this research question, breaking new ground in sustainability and global governance theories.


GLOBALGOALS offers the first and most comprehensive data compilation, network mapping and comparative institutional analysis of the evolution, effectiveness and future prospects of ‘global governance through goals’ as a central novel steering mechanism in world politics.

Our five–year study programme deployed a unique set of cutting-edge methodologies, including social network analysis and online surveys, to assess and explain the steering effects of the Sustainable Development Goals through a detailed investigation of their institutional arrangements and actor networks, at international and national levels.

Through our research we make a crucial contribution to both the theory of global sustainability governance and the successful implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.


This project received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement No 788001).


The core team is based at the Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development at Utrecht University, with a wide network of project affiliates around the world.


GLOBALGOALS was endorsed by, and collaborated with, the international research network the Earth System Governance Project.

The GLOBALGOALS Project was in collaboration with and its research is extended by the Earth System Governance ‘Taskforce on the Sustainable Development Goals’, an interdisciplinary global group of scholars and practitioners working to advance the scientific understanding of ‘governance by global goals’ and in particular the steering effects of the Sustainable Development Goals. Read more about the ESG SDG Taskforce.


Are you interested in our research? What is your impression of the SDGs and their steering effects? Are they transforming our world as they are supposed to?
Let us know your opinion by simply contacting us via e-mail at globalgoals@uu.nl.
We are excited for your feedback!