The Global Goals: Formalism Foregone, Contested Legality and “Re-imaginings” of International Law

Part of the Ethiopian Yearbook of International Law book series (EtYIL, volume 2016)


The Global Goals adopted in 2015 are the next phase in the UN’s plans to tackle poverty and the systemic causes of under-development and other global problems. As with the previous Millennium Development Goals, the Global Goals are expressly political in nature. This paper considers the function, status and role of international law in global development and, in particular, how the Global Goals might be perceived in legal terms. The paper rejects the argument that they represent customary international law due to weaknesses in State practice and opinio juris, and is unpersuaded that it is helpful to categorise them as soft law as their purpose is aspirational and not regulatory. Thus, the Goals exist in an arena of contested legality. Two “re-imaginings” of international law are proposed; first, by connecting them to the non-binding Maastricht Principles on the Extraterritorial Obligations of States in the Area of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and secondly, by linking them to ideas of international solidarity. The paper concludes that neither provides easy solutions. Nevertheless, what both do—in their own way—is to force us to question why international law is not viewed as an acceptable conduit for the advancement of global development?


World Trade Organization Millennium Development Goal Sustainable Development Goal Global Goal International Lawyer 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



I thank the editors of the Yearbook, the anonymous reviewers and Dr. Graham Melling for the insightful observations on a draft of this paper.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of LincolnLincolnUK

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