Private International Law and the United Nations’ Agenda 2030 Sustainability Goals

Allowing all people to live in dignity while at the same time protecting our natural environment is one of the globe’s greatest challenges. This aim is expressed in the 17 Sustainable Development Goals set out in the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda. The law stands as an important vehicle for their implementation. In cooperation with Veronica Ruiz Abou-Nigm and Hans van Loon, Institute Director Ralf Michaels has launched a research project that examines the role of private international law in realizing the UN goals. Together, the three scholars are editing the work “The Private Side of Transforming our World - UN Sustainable Development Goals 2030 and the Role of Private International Law”, a publication which was presented at a conference taking place from 9-11 September 2021 in Hamburg.

UN Sustainable Development Goals

Whereas the UN Sustainability Goals have already been the subject of research and discussion in numerous legal fields, they have thus far not been the object of comprehensive treatment in private international law (PIL). “Among other reasons, this is attributable to the long-held perception that PIL is a purely technical discipline without any political relevance”, says Michaels. “However, as part of the global legal structure necessary to achieve the goals of the 2030 Agenda, we see PIL as filling an important function.” Working in partnership with a global team that unites expertise from scholarship, teaching and practice, Michaels wants to first reveal the hidden and unused potential of PIL. In a next step, PIL should be imbued with new lines of thought that strengthen its role in the global quest for sustainable development.

Private law conduct as a linchpin

Exactly which topics are at issue? “The implementation of the UN goals will require enormous effort on many levels. It is noteworthy that almost all of the institutions and steering instruments mentioned in the discussion surrounding the 2030 Agenda are grounded in public law and public international law. Yet most transactions and investments as well as many other activities that result in environmental degradation occur in a context having a private law dimension. Often national borders are exceeded, whereby PIL conflict-of-law rules come into play. The goals of the agenda, for instance, also include the elimination of child marriage, early marriage and forced marriage. Owing to increasing international mobility and migration around the world, these practices have long raised conflict-of-law questions”, says Michaels, outlining just some of the subjects covered by the research project. The edited volume, which will be published in September, contains articles on all 17 sustainability goals. The broad range of topics ranges from liability and insurance issues in connection with electronic health services to climate protection lawsuits and the regulation of contracts by digital platforms such as Airbnb or Yelp, given the influence that these entities have on local economies.


„In order to advance the 2030 Agenda by legal means, paths must be forged on a global level that establish connections between legal systems and that make intermediation possible. This is where PIL plays an important role.“

– Ralf Michaels –


Global exchange as a unifying perspective

The United Nations calls on all global actors to make a contribution to the achievement of the 17 goals. How can PIL unfold its effect here? “From a legal point of view, the world is a network of different legal systems that are constantly evolving. In order to advance the 2030 Agenda by legal means, paths must be forged on a global level that establish connections between legal systems and that make intermediation possible. This is where PIL plays an important role”, says Michaels. “The researchers involved in our project offer perspectives and experiences from all the world’s continents in their contributions. At the start of our collaboration in September 2020, we exchanged ideas in an intensive two-day workshop. The knowledge gained proved highly valuable, allowing us to develop and deepen the work’s individual chapters."

Book publication and conference

“The Private Side of Transforming our World”, a cooperative effort authored over the past twelve months, was presented to the academic world at a conference bearing the same name. The hybrid academic gathering took place at the Institute from 9 to 11 September 2021.

In addition to its release as a print edition, the book will appear online as an open access publication, thus making it accessible at no cost to as many people as possible around the world.

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