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Peace gets a bit more deeply embedded in the SDGs – but can we go further?

July 9, 2015

Last month in response to the then Zero Draft Outcomes Document for the UN Summit which will adopt the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in September, I blogged that peace was present but not sufficiently embedded in the SDGs. I flagged my concern about its embeddedness with reference to the fact that peace, at number 16, was last in the list of substantive goals, and was not referenced in the “supremely ambitious vision” towards which the SDGs are supposed to be waymarkers. As any regular readers know, I have long been arguing that “global goals” is a fairly odd idea, which may have as much chance of producing perverse and negative consequences, as positive ones, in the lives of those of us who live out our lives more ‘locally’ than ‘globally’ – i.e. everyone on the planet.

So the preamble and vision matter, perhaps more than the goals themselves. It will be to these textual foundations that SDG-scholars will turn in years to come, to resolve arguments of interpretation about specific goals and targets – just as constitutional lawyers use preambles and background text to help interpret what the framers of constitutions intended, and religious scholars adduce circumstantial factors about the lives of prophets and divines, in support of their interpretations of holy sayings and books.

I am therefore very happy to note than in the latest version of the zero draft (zero plus one?), released on 8th July, the Outcomes Document seems, in this respect at least, somewhat improved. Not only does the new version include this substantive reference to peace right up at the front, on page 1:

Peace –  All people yearn to live in peaceful and harmonious societies, free from fear and violence. We want to foster peaceful, safe and inclusive societies; to strengthen governance and institutions at all levels; to ensure equal access to justice; and to protect the human rights of all men, women, boys and girls…

… but it also now includes a more inspiring, political and comprehensive vision, as follows:

Our visionIn these goals and targets, we are setting out a supremely ambitious and transformational vision. We envisage a world free of poverty, hunger, disease and want, where all life can thrive.

We envisage a world free of fear and violence. A world with universal access to quality education and to health care and social protection, where physical, mental and social well-being are assured. A world where access to safe and affordable drinking water is a basic and universal human right; where food is safe, affordable and nutritious; where there is adequate and accessible sanitation. A world where human habitats are safe, resilient and sustainable and there is affordable, reliable and sustainable energy.

We envisage a world of universal respect for human rights and human dignity, the rule of law, justice and equality; of respect for race, ethnicity and cultural values; and of equal opportunity permitting the full realization of human potential while promoting shared prosperity. A world in which every woman and child enjoys full gender equality and all barriers to their empowerment in our societies have been removed. A just, equitable, tolerant and socially inclusive world.

We envisage a world in which economic growth, consumption and production patterns and use of all natural resources – from air to land to oceans – are sustainable. One in which development and the application of technology are climate-sensitive, respect biodiversity and are resilient. One in which humanity lives in harmony with nature and in which wildlife and living species are protected.

In the text above, I have highlighted the phrases which seem like substantive additions for peace, compared with the previous version, but you can check for yourself, as the previous version was:

In the goals and targets which we have agreed, we are setting out a supremely ambitious vision. We envisage a world free of poverty, hunger, disease and want. A world, for example, of safe and nutritious food; of affordable drinking water; of universal access to basic education; of physical, mental and social well-being. A world of universal respect for human rights and human dignity; of justice and equality; of respect for race and ethnicity; and of equal opportunity permitting the full realization of human potential while promoting shared prosperity. A world in which every woman and girl enjoys full gender equality and all barriers to their empowerment in our societies have been removed. A just, equitable, tolerant and inclusive world. And one in which humanity lives in complete harmony with nature.

My proposal – in my previous blog post – was simply to add to the vision the idea of, a well-governed, just, equitable, tolerant, inclusive and peaceful world

The editors of this new draft have not gone quite so far, and I am still sorry not to see peace and good governance clearly included, since as we all know, the absence of fear and violence is not sufficient for peace; and good governance should surely be a critical feature of any future society in which billions of people need to find a way equitably to share their access to natural resources without violence.

But this draft is most certainly an improvement. As I wrote last month, the main components of peace are already present in the vision, so I would not wish to complain too much. Nevertheless, it is important to name the whole, as well as its components, lest people miss the forest for the trees, or the hive for the bees. I find myself imagining the bemusement with which SDG scholars or, worse still, young people who will have come of age between now and 2030, might look back at the UN’s “supremely ambitious and transformational vision” and ask why on earth, and how in heck, its framers had missed out on such important public goods.

Is it too late to get the words ‘peaceful and well-governed’ in there by the time of the UN Summit in September, I wonder?

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