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Civil society and accountability in global governance – implications for effectiveness and legitimacy

Fri, July 1, 3:30 to 5:00pm, Campus Ersta, Sal 2


The year 2015 provided the world with a new set of global goals – countries adopted both the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and a new agreement on climate change. In both of these negotiation processes civil society organizations have been very active as advocates seeking to ensure that state officials are responsive to their expectations and concerns. Once adopted the implementation phase of these ‘standards of acceptable behaviour’— as international norms have also been referred to — some civil society organizations continue to be engaged in demanding accountability of states, this time for how they comply with their international commitments. Considering the reluctance of states to hold each other to account for compliance in global arenas and patchy and often low compliance levels the role of CSOs in such ex post accountability may here not only be linked to strengthening the democratic accountability and legitimacy of global governance (Held 2004, Scholte 2004, Grant and Keohane 2005, Steffek 2010) but also its influence and effectiveness.
This paper will do two things. Firstly it will review the kind of arguments used in the literature in support of a role for civil society as accountholders of states vis-a-vis international norms. This will include analysis of theoretical and normative legal and international relations literature as well as papers focused on the domains of environment, sustainable development and human rights. Secondly this paper will provide a kind of reflective mapping — through document analysis and interviews — of the approaches CSOs are currently contemplating to hold states to account for the new global goals. While the empirical landscape is in flux and further initiatives will only emerge during the spring of 2016 the analysis will include the Data Shift project with a vision of “people-powered accountability drives progress on sustainable development” through CSO generated data and the CSO engagement with the formal follow-up mechanisms of the SDGs in the UN High-Level Political Forum. These CSO activities — and the motivations that drive them within CSOs — will be compared with arguments raised in the literature of why CSOs should take on this role as accountholder. The conclusions will be reflections on possible reasons and implications of alignment or misalignment between these theoretically and empirically rooted arguments of ‘people-powered accountability’.