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The Use of SDGs’ Global Goals and Targets: Neoliberal Institutionalism Perspective

(Coordinator of Pandjer School)

As the global trends and public doctrine, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are the reference basis for all the UN member states to establish their national policy agenda-setting and formulation, as well as a global guidebook to undertake multifaceted developments on behalf of poverty reduction, profitable international partnership, and environmental sustainability by 2030. While the Millennium Developments Goals (MDGs) rely fully and dominantly on the wholehearted actions from the developed countries, the SDGs are designed to actively and equally engage the developing countries in realizing the better change at global, regional, national and local levels, not least to gain much contribution from other non-state actors in the framework of governance. This paper tends to discuss the Neoliberal Institutionalism (NI) logics to comprehend the use of SDGs global goals and targets executed in and by national states adopted in 2015. Further, it focuses to reasonably explain three main issues, such as 1) the NI perspective on SDGs, 2) the function of stipulated global goals and targets for dissimilar actors, and 3) the potential challenges of the global goals and targets as the means for environmental governance.

Ilustrasi The Use of SDGs’ Global Goals and Targets

NI Perspective on SDGs’ Goals and Targets
NI is a systemic theory derived from neoliberalism school (Saryal 2015, 3) and institutionalism, which concern itself not just with the partial shift of power from the state to other non-state institutions beneficial to the state international interests (Keohane 1992, 62). It also concerns with the prediction of either the persistence or transformation scenario (Hellmann and Wolf 1993, 4) of international institutions. NI pays much attention on the significant role of international institutions in coordinating cooperation between states (Gilpin 2001, 379). It claims that states are not the only influential actors in international politics (Saryal 2015, 3), vice versa, the non-state actors leveraging international institutions are also important to widespread international cooperation even when the state gains setting up the institutions’ establishment no longer exist (Hellmann and Wolf 1993, 7).

At this point, NI considers SDGs’ goals and targets as a political construct (Gabay and Ilcan 2017, 337) that represents every state interest bringing upward to the international arena, which can be traced and depicted through international institutions created and implemented by both states and non-state actors at the expense of national sovereignty. By the same token, SDGs is a political product of the transformation from flexible international cooperation to international institutions. Yet, however, it remains problematic when it deals with the effectiveness to influence (Bernstein and Cashore 2012, 587) of each goals and targets, and indeed, with the sovereignty and legitimacy issues when these goals and targets intersect at multiple levels of governance (Weiss and Wilkinson 2014, 207). In sum, I argue that NI still posits SDGs’ goals and targets as the coalesced interests and political compromise between the member states in the form of institutionalized cooperation to address the root-causes of ubiquitous problems. Note, that NI views all goals and targets as a joint commitment with arguably less compliance which entails a robust punishment for whom fail to achieve. So that,  the actual bargaining is dependent on how the states infiltrate their interest on and control their allied international organizations as their proxy at the supra national levels And, it is the states to renegotiate their business with non-state actors to adjust existing international cooperation, even to re-bargain the implementation of SDGs at national and local levels based on their affairs that lie behind the global goals and targets.

Dissimilar Actors, Dissimilar Outcomes?
In a globalization era, domestic and sectoral problems can be global problems, which in turn, looking for global solutions that accommodate every levels and states business in the form of global goals and targets, including SDGs. As a result, the problems become more complex and situate ‘government in global governance’ logics (Bernstein and Cashore 2012), as well as involve many more actors outside the states in the framework of multilevel governance (Piattoni 2010) or global governance (Weiss and Wilkinson 2014). As the states are still the key actors in achieving SDGs goals and targets, the emergence and existence of non-state actors, such as international organizations (both affiliated to or partnered with the United Nations), NGOs, private business, and so forth, play a crucial role in establishing ‘states hidden agenda’ behind the SDGs and in determining the most beneficial outcomes for the state.

The non-state actors, NI argues, are intrinsically designed by the states to maintain international cooperation which coincides with the enactment and enforcement of international institutions manifested technically through the global goals and targets. However, in an optimistic sense, the non-state actors can help the state actors to reach the SDGs more efficiently and effectively, by which the problems (and of course the interests) can democratically be raised by any actors at dissimilar levels, including to jointly make collective decisions and actions. However, yet, in a pessimistic sense, to what extent the roles and outcomes posed by the non-state actors are still vague and ambiguous, thus the global goals and targets are to fulfil the interests of the dominant states having superlative influence on international non-state actors. In other words, the global goals and targets are implicitly stipulated as international regime, from which the perceived outcomes are at the expense of the states which do not have adequate bargaining position and power to influence decision-making process within international interaction. In brief, having standardized goals and targets are profitable for the dominant states, but are a loss for the subordinated states since the specific roles and binding sanctions are not agreed upon. The goals and targets are the affirmative “rule of the game” and are not the substantively democratic on its outcomes for multi-stakeholders respectively.

Potential Challenges for Environmental Governance
Broadly speaking, the environment business is a cross-cutting and collective problem faced by all the UN members states. The environmentalism becomes a must global agenda (Saryal 2015, 1), which recently is understood as the consequence of more adverse global economic environment (Weiss and Wilkinson 2014, 209). Given that the SDGs goals and targets on environmental sustainability take place mainly at the global level, there is a missing link between global and national levels to implement them.

Indeed, the challenge remains at the regional level as the global governance is reasonably stagnant (Conca 2012), and considering that regional governance can establish new cooperation (Selin and VanDeveer 2015), institutional forms (Kuyper et al 2017), and agreements (Balsiger and Prys 2016) to determine who and how other non-state actors can work with and for the determined goals and targets. Most importantly, the role of non-state actors to articulate and aggregate the environmental issues at local level is most critical (Aguilar Støen 2017; Reimerson 2013), from which the problems are raised and in which any higher actions are recognized as whether accomplished or failed. In sum, however, the challenges encompass 1) new institutional design and regime of regional governance; 2) limits of the involvement of other non-state actors within regional and international cooperation, and 3) the meaningful participation of local non-state actors to define their problem and measure the implementation of global goals and targets at very micro level.

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