A key new element in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development that will be adopted formally in late September at the United Nations is the inclusion of goals and targets that go beyond the traditional development objectives of the Millennium Development Goals and address social transformation more broadly.
In particular, the new framework singles out peaceful, just and inclusive societies as one of five “areas of critical importance for humanity and the planet.” The heart of this approach is found in Goal 16, which promotes “peaceful and inclusive societies,” but there are related provisions throughout the document, including Goal 10, “Reduce inequality within and among countries,” and Goal 5, “Achieve gender equality.”
The peace issues have also obtained numerous key roles in the complementary document on financing, the Addis Ababa Action Agenda.
When the process of writing the new Sustainable Development Goals began several years ago, it seemed unlikely that peace issues would overcome the strong political headwinds against their inclusion. That they have done so is a result of a growing realization among development actors that peace is not only a necessary development goal in its own right, but that it is also fundamental to the achievement of all the SDGs.
So, why are the peace issues so central?
• First, at the most universal level, violence is a fundamental dimension of human suffering. Violence is a part of everyday life for hundreds of millions of children, women and men everyday, as integral to the human experience as hunger and sickness. Violence is universal, darkening lives in rich societies as well as poor ones. And we have learned that violence cannot be addressed without engaging its roots in the fabric of our societies and how we order our international affairs.
• Second, we cannot eradicate extreme poverty without addressing peace, inclusion and justice. Overwhelmingly, the evidence from countries affected by chronic violence and instability, the countries that form the heart of the development enterprise, is that we cannot achieve conventional development objectives without addressing the composition of society by fostering stronger institutions, better governance, inclusion and people’s safety and justice as well as providing livelihoods and dignity.
Research shows that efforts to eliminate extreme poverty must address the promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies. By 2030, countries affected by conflict, exclusion and lower institutional capacity will be home to the majority of people living on less than $1.25 a day. These are the environments where the Millennium Development Goals have failed to bring either peace or development; currently, foreign aid flows are not reaching the right countries or the right sectors to build peace.
• Third, inclusive and just communities are the road to resilience. In so many of the topics being looked at in sustainable development and across a broad range of development and humanitarian objectives, a key goal is to help build stronger societies that can better manage internal and external stresses, that can be more robust amid climate change and disaster, and that can better address the needs of the vulnerable as well as provide jobs and justice. Better, more inclusive governance and decision-making, stronger institutions and addressing inequalities and exclusion are not side issues: they are vital building blocks in creating the resilience that societies need to achieve all development goals.
So, what’s next, and how can the peace objectives be achieved?
The World Bank pointed the way as to what is required in the 2011 World Development report “Conflict, Security and Development,” which emphasized that strengthening legitimate institutions and governance to provide citizen security, justice and jobs was crucial, although the process could take decades. The Group of 7+ fragile and conflict-affected countries, currently chaired by Sierra Leone, have themselves articulated what their own experiences have taught them about how to do development in challenging environments. They list in their “peacebuilding and statebuilding goals,” such issues as inclusive politics, people’s security and access to justice as being equally important as livelihoods, revenues and services.
A focus on strengthening the social fabric, listening to local voices and confronting issues of inclusion and fairness is essential to proper development, but it requires changes in approach from states, civil society and funders alike. These situations also require that we better address the external stresses that can so easily destabilize developing societies, from the economic and security policies of the major powers to arms flows and trafficking.
The new goals are the product of a lengthy process of political negotiating. Perfect framework it is not, and the details of implementation, measurement and accountability will take months to sort out. Major issues on financing, in particular, remain unclear, and the balance among the interests of people, governments and commercial actors will be actively contested.
Nevertheless, this new global framework opens a hopeful new chapter in cooperation among nations and institutions, one that seeks not only to address traditional development objectives more holistically but also to put peace at the center of our aspirations.
In the words of the preamble, echoing the UN Charter, “To strengthen universal peace in larger freedom.”