Skip to main content
Centre for Law, Sustainability & Justice

United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDs) are global and therefore apply equally in Denmark and all other countries in the world.

At CLS&J, we wish to critically explore and challenge legal aspects of the SDGs. 

SDG 16 (the provision of access to justice for all and promotion of effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels) is a natural point of departure for much research on legal aspects of the SDGs. 

However, law relates to all SDGs – whether in the form of statutory national law, human rights ideals, hard law on public participation in environmental protection – such as the Aarhus convention (on decision-making and access to justice in environmental matters), international treaties – such as the Paris Climate Change Agreement, smart-mix regulation, enforcement and sanctions, instrumental use of law to shape conduct of individuals or organisations, or simply as a science on the institutionalisation of norms of conduct to bring each SDG from vision to (ideally) reality. 

The United Nations (UN) began explicitly addressing sustainable development with the 1986 report of the World Commission on Environment and Development which delivered the so-called ‘Brundtland report’. The report defined sustainable development as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. However, the UN Charter adopted in 1945 addresses several issues that would very likely be referred to as ‘sustainability’ today, such as solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character; promoting international cooperation in the economic, social, cultural, educational, and health fields; and assisting in the realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion.

Since then, several UN initiatives have addressed sustainable development. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are the most recent of these. The 17 SDGs are set out in a resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2015. With the ambitious title ‘Transforming our world: the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development’, the text was set forth in the form of a resolution, an international high level soft law instrument. Aiming to operationalise sustainable development across the overarching topics of ‘people’, ‘planet’, ‘prosperity’, ‘peace’ and ‘partnerships’, the SDGs address a broad range of public policy objectives in social fields like health, education, work; economic and technical fields like infrastructure, energy, environment, climate change mitigation and natural resource management; and ‘strong institutions’ including the rule of law and several related issues. Across the 17 SDGs, this is spelled out into 169 targets.


Last Updated 15.07.2022