By Abby Davidson, Humanitas Global
The recent adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) was a sign of a progress in global development efforts. The predecessor to the SDGs, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were seen as groundbreaking in forming global consensus and participation but failed to deliver in many regards.
A major component missing in the MDGs was specific language about peacebuilding. Despite being ignored in the goals, conflict has clearly been an impediment to sustainable development in the past 15 years. For example, MDG 2 was to achieve universal primary education, yet in 2011 the proportion of children who left primary school in conflict-affected countries reached 50 percent, or approximately 28.5 million children.
In response to these challenges, the SDGs include peace and inclusion both as a goal and in the preamble. SDG 16 reads “Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels”. Targets under this goal call for reductions in violence, corruption, and illicit arms flows as well as increases in access to information, non-discriminatory laws, and national capacity to combat terrorism and crime.
Yesterday, the Conflict Prevention and Resolution Forum hosted a panel discussion titled The Future of Goal 16: Peace and Inclusion in the Sustainable Development Goals. The event provided a platform for discussion about SDG 16, how it was adopted, and its implications for the future. Some key points included:
SDG 16 Calls for Global, not Just Local, Change
The global development world is ever-transitioning out of the “West versus East” mindset and into one where all participate in the discussion, form policy, and track progress. While the MDGs were rooted in the traditional “aid” system, the SDGs reflect a more inclusive process. This evolution of thought is evident in SDG target 16.8: “Broaden and strengthen the participation of developing countries in the institutions of global governance”.
Developed Countries are not exempt from Peacebuilding
SDG 16 should not be confined to “conflict” or “unstable” countries, as injustice and corruption are issues in developed countries alike. The US and other high-income countries are developing within the paradigms of equality and security, and inclusive justice is a key to a stable future for any society.
The SDGs were more political than technical in their formation, and the more scientific aspects must now be mapped to ensure consensus on accomplishable, measurable indicators. The conversation is ongoing, and the process can be tracked here. Further, the question will not be solely concerned with what the indicators will be, but also who will track them. The current plan is for government institutions to track progress, but this is troublesome for countries which already struggle to compile quality data due to technological, financial, and political constraints.
Participation Will Determine the Way Forward
Setting a goal and determining indicators marks the start and the finish lines, but who will run the race? While militarized, forceful solutions may be the go-to route for the short term, long term peace can only be secured in identifying root causes of unrest. Civil society, governments, international agencies, and particularly citizens all have roles to play in tackling the various targets of SDG 16.
Violence, corruption, and injustice threaten the most vulnerable in a society, and these issues are faced by countries on all stages of the development continuum. Including peace and inclusion in the SDGs is a signal to the global actors that peace, equity, and justice must be integrated into all development interventions.
Director, Quaker United Nations Office (QUNO)
Senior manager of Knowledge Management Projects, International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD)
Liz Hume – Moderator
Senior Director for Programs and Strategy, Alliance for Peacebuilding