CLA News / The Sustainable Development Goals: A Common Future


Advocates for International Development (A4ID) is the leading international charity that channels legal expertise globally toward the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Founded in 2006 to see the law and lawyers play their full part in the global eradication of poverty, the charity works with 50,000+ lawyers, supports over 800 NGOs, and has carried out work impacting 130+ countries.

If you are anything like us here at A4ID, the beginning of a new year is always a mixture of anticipation, excitement and an endless list of aspirations – and going into 2023 has been no different. This year however, the anticipation has felt more pressing, the excitement more real and the aspirations more determined as we quickly approach the halfway mark of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – Agenda 2030.

17 goals, 169 targets and the backing of 193 countries – and yet, we still have such a long way to go towards realising the scope of ambitions needed to end poverty, protect the planet, and secure peace and prosperity around the world. For A4ID, the law has always been the key. It traverses jurisdictions, it has both public and private applications, and it is fundamental in the administration of justice – there to serve all people and not just in the service of the few. No doubt these values resonate strongly with CLA’s own; the importance of rule of law, of a common bond between nations and of the role of the legal profession in advocating for human rights, dignity and equality.

Much like CLA then, A4ID recognises the potential and power in legal professionals with a vision that has long called upon lawyers all around the globe to innovate and bring their specific set of skills to the fore. Trained in navigating complex landscapes, able to negotiate competing interests, and proficient in resolving issues, it is with the help of the law and legal expertise that we find an accomplished group of problem solvers – of lawyers who are fast becoming part of the sustainability solution.

Indeed, A4ID’s SDG Legal Initiative, supported by the world’s largest international law firms and corporations, is a testament to these shifting tides. As a call to action to the global legal profession to work towards the SDG Agenda, the initiative is committed to sharing knowledge, innovating solutions and providing new opportunities so that lawyers, law firms and private sector corporations can take practical action to realise the SDGs. The initiative has already developed a wealth of resources and training for lawyers, and through pro bono efforts has mobilised lawyers who have contributed to a myriad of sustainability projects that touch all 17 SDGs.

And what we are finding in all these contributions is simple. Sustainable development is no longer just a vision for change, it is something that governments and the public sector require tangible solutions for, it is something that corporations and the private sector are actively seeking feasible opportunities in, and it is something that public citizens, be they individuals or collective action groups, are demanding in their day-to-day realities. It is practical, not just a pledge – it measures progress, not just makes promises.

And it is, very much, a client driven agenda. From sustainable supply chains to governance and reporting, the line between risk management, due diligence, and legal culpability has become blurry. Lawyers are now increasingly asked to project future risks, to forecast potential liability and to have a general awareness of how the legal, regulatory and policy landscapes are evolving. Take for example, our SDG Legal Guide 13: first published at COP 26 in 2021, the latest update (released at COP 27) noted more than 100 changes to climate change policies and laws across the globe – changes that emerged in the space of only one year alone. These developments are clearly taking place at an alarming rate and will only continue to expedite as we near the 2030 target date for implementation of the SDGs.

However daunting as this may seem, these challenges present opportunities in and of themselves. As legal professionals have a highly influential role in the social and business environments of their jurisdictions, they play a key role in the administration of justice and, through their advisory roles, encourage the observance not just of direct law, but also the growing body of regulatory guidance and other ’soft law’ that exists. As States look to bolster the infrastructure of nations, develop sustainable synergies in international trade and commerce, and rebuild a healthier more diverse natural environment, it is inevitable that legal support and advice will be needed, not least to manage these institutional changes and help make things happen as to ensure that when they do, the impacts are felt equitably across all persons.

And lawyers aren’t alone either. The SDGs’ ambitions have always been bigger than just one sector or profession. A4ID’s Annual Conference this March will highlight the importance of SDG 17 ‘Partnerships for Goals’ in encouraging strategic partnerships and in utilising the SDG framework as a basis upon which law firms and lawyers can pool their resources under tried and tested models to achieve greater impact for their clients and pro bono recipients. Through an analysis of international and national legal frameworks alongside case studies of action, the SDG Legal Guide 17 supports this notion, encouraging lawyers to network, synergise and innovate – seizing the opportunities that such an ambitious agenda provides.

For CLA lawyers, a talented group of legal professionals operating far across the world map, these opportunities are there for you too. And how can you seize them? Here are just a handful of actions that you can take today to improve your contributions towards sustainable development:

  • Educate yourself on the SDG agenda: Through resources such as the SDG Legal Guides, and the soon to be launched SDG Legal Initiative platform, you can find research on legal frameworks for sustainability, on sector contributions and thought leadership, and a compilation of case studies to help firms revolutionise how their pro bono and legal work is carried out to maximise impact.
  • Consider the sustainability dimensions of client needs: Engage your clients in conversations on sustainability to understand where they may require further support and assistance. Whether or not they are already cognisant of these developments, the landscape is changing and compliance requirements, risk assessments and due diligence processes are bound to touch on at least one of the 17 SDGs at some point. Better your clients are alerted to this now, than later down the road.
  • Training, Partnerships and Networks: develop your own capacity through training programmes on issues of sustainability. This explicitly includes rule of law (SDG 16), employment protections (SDG 8), climate justice (SDG 13) as well as less salient aspects of public and private practice. Through training, events and networking opportunities, look to strategic partnerships that will help innovate new solutions and boost your impact.
  • Get Involved: develop your pro bono projects in line with the global standard created through the SDG Agenda. Whether it is supporting charities and NGOs to incorporate or expand their outreach, providing legal expertise in research projects for new public policies or advocacy initiatives, or even mobilising the power of litigation to hold institutions to account, there are numerous ways that pro bono projects can benefit. The 17 goals cover every aspect of ESG, corporate responsibility and the triple bottom line that you can think of – as such there is ample opportunity to align your pro bono contributions with your own corporate values or business objectives to drive impact.