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From Aspirational Politics to Soft Law? Exploring the International Legal Effects of Sustainable Development Goal 7 on Affordable and Clean Energy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Original languageEnglish
JournalMelbourne Journal of International Law
Issue number1
Accepted/In press30 Mar 2021


  • DUVICPAOLI - SDG 7 - Accepted

    DUVICPAOLI_SDG_7_Accepted.docx, 107 KB, application/vnd.openxmlformats-officedocument.wordprocessingml.document

    Uploaded date:21 May 2021

    Version:Accepted author manuscript

  • Duvic-Paoli (Published Version)

    Duvic_Paoli_Published_Version_.pdf, 348 KB, application/pdf

    Uploaded date:14 Aug 2021

    Version:Final published version

King's Authors


This article examines the international legal impacts of Sustainable Development Goal (‘SDG’) 7 on ‘access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all’ five years after its adoption. The inclusion of a stand-alone goal on energy in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development has been hailed as a historic shift away from the reluctance of states to govern energy issues at a global level. At the same time, the ability of SDG 7 to strengthen the role played by international law in the field of energy appears limited because it is a deeply political commitment. This article argues that SDG 7 has so far remained an aspirational goal and proposes a taxonomy of normative effects that, if fulfilled, could qualify the Goal as a soft law instrument. First, it presents the SDGs as political aspirations that entertain ambiguous relationships with international law: as a result, their normative status does not bring much clarity about the role played by SDG 7 in the international legal system. Second, it focuses on the origins and crystallisation of the aspirational goal to understand the place of SDG 7 within existing multilateral efforts to govern the energy sector cooperatively. Third, it maps the impacts of SDG 7 on institutional, treaty and customary law to argue that while these remain at present minimal, SDG 7 could in the future behave like a soft law tool.

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