As world leaders meet to adopt a new action plan to combat poverty, inequality and climate change, one goal on the list has proven trickier than the rest – how to achieve the peace and stability needed for progress.
The set of 17 goals drawn up by U.N. member states to help shape government policies over the next 15 years is undeniably ambitious. But one – Goal 16 – was the most contentious, according to people involved in the process.
Goal 16 makes a commitment to promoting peaceful and inclusive societies, with access to justice for all and accountable institutions.
Many believe this is the key to unlocking gains from the other Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), due to be adopted by 193 states at the United Nations on Friday, because conflict and violence prevent social, economic and environmental improvement.
Yet reaching global agreement on this was difficult.
David Miliband, former British foreign secretary and head of humanitarian group International Rescue Committee, said he would have preferred a stronger emphasis on the needs of people affected by conflict across all 17 goals.
“But the politics around conflict go to the heart of questions of national sovereignty that is very jealously guarded,” Miliband told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview.
“We would like to have seen a much more thorough recognition of the increasing overlap between conflict and extreme poverty.”
Miliband highlighted estimates that 63 percent of the world’s extreme poor will be living in conflict states by 2030, up from 43 percent now and 12 percent in 2000.
Despite concerns over the wording, development experts have welcomed the fact that the SDGs are the first major U.N. agreement to make a commitment to peaceful and inclusive societies a central part of the world’s vision for progress.
The previous U.N. action plan, the Millennium Development Goals, adopted in 2000 and expiring this year, did not have an explicit goal on peace and security.
British lawmaker John Alderdice, who played a key role in the Northern Ireland peace process, said he was disappointed peace and governance were not higher priorities in the SDGs but said at least this gave a mandate to push for change.
He said it had been a contentious issue while drafting the SDGs because peace, justice and good governance were problematic for some governments.
“There are a lot of countries in the world where governance is deteriorating rather than improving,” Alderdice told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“But I really don’t see how you can implement any of the other goals without peace, stability and good governance. “Look at the situation in the Middle East now. None of these SDGs have the remotest possibility of being fulfilled in Syria, Iraq or in Palestine.”
Alderdice said it was vital once the SDGs were officially adopted to ensure they led to action with the inaugural Rising Global Peace Forum being held in Coventry, England, in November a good opportunity to build momentum for change.
Helen Clark, administrator of the United Nations Development Programme and former New Zealand prime minister, said access to justice for everybody and accountable, inclusive institutions at all levels were ambitious targets and would be a stretch.
“But if we look at what are the ingredients of peaceful, cohesive societies, it’s people having voices, the rule of law, it’s institutions that work. This is basic,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“It’s not going to be achieved with a magic wand, but it’s rather central to our mandate.”