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Making SDG #16 work for peace

December 10, 2014

This article, written in August, was included in the UK UN Association’s recent publication Global Development Goals: Partnerships for Progress

 

The proposed SDGs are no substitute for an activist, context-based approach to development. But they represent a marked improvement on the MDGs, not least by the recognition that development is meaningless unless it includes human security, governance, inclusion, justice and peace. So all development activists should aim to integrate these in their initiatives. Fortunately, this is relatively simple, as almost all of the more than 150 proposed sub-goals are connected to goal #16. Thus, progress on goal #16 will be achieved not only by specialists in peace, justice, security and governance, but by all development actors, provided they take it seriously into account.

 

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were too narrow, and they undervalued the political aspects of development in favour of more technical issues. They also failed to recognise that development processes are context-specific, and cannot be defined from a vantage point in New York. Despite their unstrategic nature, in the absence of a clear alternative they became for many the default narrative of what “development” looks like, and acted as a set of perverse incentives.

The Open Working Group’s (OWG’s) proposal partly addresses these problems. It is broader than the MDGs, and it accepts that “development” will look different in every context, and must be led by the people and countries concerned, within a system of global cooperation and partnerships.

Crucially, the proposed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) recognise the importance of peace, good governance, justice and security – critical building blocks of human progress which are glaringly absent from the MDGs – in goal #16: Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.

But the proposal fails to lay out an overall narrative of what “development” actually means: it reads as an incoherent list of seventeen goals and over 150 subsidiary targets sparkling like as many coloured lights festooning a Christmas tree. This is particularly relevant here because without an overall narrative, the issues included in goal #16 appear to have been somewhat marginalised. Surely any student of history would allow that peace, governance, justice and security represent more than one-seventeenth of the story – i.e. deserve more attention than merely being thrown together to make one out of seventeen goals?

The OWG also failed design a system in which the SDGs can provide incentives for positive change, built around carrots and sticks and based on subsidiarity, i.e. the principle that a central authority should have a subsidiary function, doing only what cannot be done effectively at a more local level. Incentives for change are especially important for goal #16, to encourage powerful incumbents to adopt more inclusive and accountable governance – which might undermine their access to power.

Justice, good governance, security and peace do not lend themselves to short-term goals and targets. The English took seven centuries to progress from Magna Carta, which provided for habeas corpus and limited the power of the king in 1215, to universal adult suffrage in 1928. Certainly things are moving faster nowadays, and England’s is not the path to follow, but progress on goal #16 will inevitably be linked to changes in the political economy, which are seldom linear. Nor is progress on peace, justice, security and good governance made in the abstract, rather in relation to factors included elsewhere in the SDGs: this provides an important clue as to how to operationalise goal #16.

With all this in mind, how might goal #16 be used, and by whom? Broadly, I would suggest five mutually supportive pathways for this.

  1. Activists

Reducing violence, promoting the rule of law, combating corruption and bribery, building effective institutions, ensuring responsive and inclusive decision-making, ensuring public access to information, and promoting non-discriminatory laws and policies…. These kinds of targets can only be achieved by the efforts of activists in the countries concerned, i.e. people in politics, the civil service, civil society or business who are committed to change. They can:

  • Use their government’s commitment to goal #16, in public and private advocacy, as a reference against which to monitor and encourage progress
  • “Domesticate” goal #16, by formulating strategies which make sense in the national and local context, and develop locally relevant indicators and milestones against which these can be publicly measured and used for accountability
  • Collaborate with and seek support from outsiders: such as peers seeking similar changes in other countries, and international agencies with relevant expertise.
  1. Businesses and others associated with economic projects

Economic growth is partly achieved through investment projects which need careful governance if they are to avoid having negative impacts on human security, justice and peace – especially in land- and natural resource-based sectors. So they provide concrete opportunities to enhance governance, security, peace and justice, on issues which matter to a diverse range of stakeholders. Businesses, governments and civil society can promote popular participation in planning and execution; ensure benefits are transparently and genuinely shared and reinvested; and that communities are protected from harm. Given the international nature of many economic sectors, there is an important role for international institutions to play here too – for example the UN Global Compact and the Voluntary Principles for Security and Human Rights.

  1. International development institutions integrating goal #16 into their programmes

International development institutions – the International Finance Institutions, the UN, donors and NGOs – will continue to focus the bulk of their efforts on the other sixteen goals. Initiatives focused on social protection, food security, climate change, health, education, water and sanitation, etc. are linked to goal #16, and can be implemented in ways which either enhance or diminish peace, security and governance. From the location of a community well, through the management of schools and the elaboration of education curriculums, to national health policies: all need to be well-governed, and designed and implemented conflict-sensitively, with explicit and careful strategies for social inclusion. Thus all “development” actors can integrate goal #16 into their strategic assessments, project designs, and evaluation frameworks.

  1. International institutions monitoring progress

While most interventions will be initiated and conducted in specific countries and localities, international bodies have a critical role to play by:

  • Conducting empirical research to measure the changes taking place, comparing these with the published strategies, and publishing the results internationally and nationally so they can be used to hold governments and others to account, and to adapt strategies where necessary
  • Building up an international dataset showing how progress towards peace, justice, security, inclusion and better governance happens – a narrative of change – and sharing this widely.
  1. Governments, international institutions and other international actors collaborating on supra-national issues

The progress made in international peacekeeping and peacebuilding in the past few decades must to continue: the UN, regional blocs and informal groupings of nations must continue to seek ways to reduce the risk of intra- and inter-state war and to intervene more effectively and earlier to prevent it, and to end it when it occurs. Meanwhile, many of the structural factors enabling violence, corruption, poor governance, etc. are international in nature, and require an international response, often through international institutions and agreements. International institutions play a particularly important role providing leadership, knowledge and solidarity, and enforcing norms, for example on human trafficking, money laundering, drug and arms trade, and all forms of organised crime; as well as in holding licit businesses to common, high standards of behaviour.

Conclusion

The proposed SDGs are no substitute for an activist, context-based approach to development. But they represent a marked improvement on the MDGs, not least by the recognition that development is meaningless unless it includes human security, governance, inclusion, justice and peace. So all development activists should aim to integrate these in their initiatives. Fortunately, this is relatively simple, as almost all of the more than 150 proposed sub-goals are connected to goal #16. Thus, progress on goal #16 will be achieved not only by specialists in peace, justice, security and governance, but by all development actors, provided they take it seriously into account.

 

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