The Private Side of Transforming our World

UN Sustainable Development Goals 2030 and the Role of Private International Law

Enabling all citizens of the world to live in dignity while preserving our natural resources is one of the greatest global challenges of our time. This challenge is reflected in the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which have been set out by the United Nations. The project “The Private Side of Transforming our World – UN Sustainable Development Goals 2030 and the Role of Private International Law” aims to raise an awareness of how PIL – with its methods and institutions – is also capable of making a significant contribution in the quest for sustainable development.

The project has been initiated by Institute Director Ralf Michaels together with Verónica Ruiz Abou-Nigm (University of Edinburgh) and Hans van Loon (former Secretary General Hague Conference on Private International Law). The 19 researchers who are participating represent all of the world’s continents and are intent upon studying the relationship between the SDGs and PIL. The resulting findings will be printed in an Intersentia-published volume and presented in the framework of a conference to be held on 9 to 11 September 2021 at the Hamburger Max Planck Institute for Comparative and International Private Law.

Sustainable Development and PIL

The 17 goals for sustainable development form the core of the Agenda 2030, titled in full as “Transforming our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”. It was adopted on 25 September 2015 by the General Assembly of the United Nations and should be implemented by 2030. The Agenda, which has also been referred to as “a contract for the future of the world”, aims to serve as a blueprint for realizing global economic progress in a manner consistent with social justice and the planet’s environmental limits.

In the arena of public law, including public international law, the SDGs have already become a focal point for comprehensive discussion about the future of the world. With regard to private law and private international law (PIL), by contrast, there has been less attention. Yet the Agenda 2030, with its 17 primary goals and 169 associated sub-goals, bears significantly on the fields of PIL. For instance, under Goal 16.9 countries should “[b]y 2030, provide legal identity for all, including birth registration”, while pursuant to Goal 5.3 “all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage” should be eliminated. These are merely two of many examples that fall directly in the field of PIL.

Global Exchange as a Foundation for New Perspectives

In September 2020, in the context of a two-day internal workshop, the scholars participating in the project shared and discussed their initial findings on the relationship between the SDGs and PIL. The basis of discourse was the participants’ first drafts of the chapters that will comprise the planned publication. Papers were circulated and read in advance of the digital workshop, and – despite the significant time differences they faced – participants engaged in robust debate and exchanged valuable ideas, thus facilitating the expansion and further development of their individual submissions.

The edited volume compiling the participants’ submissions is being published by Intersentia and is scheduled for release contemporaneous with the September 2021 conference. In order to reach the broadest possible global readership, it will be freely accessible online (open access). The target audience of the volume includes, on the one hand, private international law scholars, who have thus far paid generally minimal attention to the SDGs, and, on the other hand, readers who are interested in the highly topical issue of sustainable development but who have no significant PIL background. Each chapter of the book focuses on one of the 17 SDGs, while at the same time making reference to the volume’s general goals. Individual authors draw upon their own personal backgrounds and academic experiences, thus offering, for example, the perspective of the Global South. The chapters are the product of an intensive dialogue between the individual authors and the three editors, who for their part have closely read the drafts on multiple occasions and offered further input. The 17 SDGs at issue are being analysed by the following global array of authors:

No Poverty
Benyam Dawit Mezmur (University of the Western Cape, South Africa)
Zero Hunger
Jeannette Tramhel (Organization of American States, United States of America)
Good Health and Well-being
Anabela Susana de Sousa Gonçalves (Universidade do Minho, Portugal)
Quality Education
Klaus Beiter (North-West University, South Africa)
Gender Equality
Gülüm Özçelik (Bilkent Üniversitesi, Turkey)
Clean Water and Sanitation
Richard Frimpong Oppong (California Western School of Law, San Diego, United States of America)
Affordable and Clean Energy
Nikitas E. Hatzimihail (University of Cyprus, Cyprus)
Decent Work and Economic Growth
Ulla Liukkunen (University of Helsinki, Finland)
Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
Vivienne Bath (University of Sydney, Australia)
SDG 10
Reduced Inequality
Thalia Kruger (Universiteit Antwerp, Belgium)
SDG 11
Sustainable Cities and Communities
Klaas Hendrik Eller (Universiteit van Amsterdam, Netherlands)
SDG 12   
Responsible Consumption and Production   
Geneviève Saumier (McGill University, Canada)
SDG 13
Climate Action
Eduardo Álvarez-Armas (Brunel University London, United Kingdom and Université Catholique de Louvain, Belgium)
SDG 14
Life Below Water
Tajudeen Sanni (Kampala International University, Uganda)
SDG 15
Life on Land
Drossos Stamboulakis (Monash University, Australia)
and Jay Sanderson (University of the Sunshine Coast, Australia)
SDG 16
Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions
Sabine Corneloup (Université Panthéon-Assas, Paris II, France)
and Jinske Verhellen (Universiteit Gent, Belgium)
SDG 17
Partnerships for the Goals
Fabricio Polido (Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, Brazil)


The project offers new insights regarding the various tools that society and legislators can rely upon in order to surmount global challenges. In identifying ways forward, it would be short-sighted and rash to not look beyond the realm of public international law instruments; rather, the horizon should be expanded so as to encompass the beneficial methods and institutions of private international law. Simultaneously, PIL should be reassessed and further developed with an eye toward the global aim of sustainable development.



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