Today the UN will adopt the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Two years of discussions, 17 goals, 169 targets and a better picture of what it will take to promote sustainable development than ever before – not bad for a 70 year old.
Perhaps one of the greatest advances was getting peace into the mix. It was a hard road travelled, with resistance from traditional quarters but we succeeded. Now this could be a consequence of horse trading. Those traditionally opposed, viewing peace as the purview of the UN Security Council and national governments, might have had other bigger priorities. Today, however, I choose not to be cynical.
If it represents a shift in thinking, a broader and deeper view that peace is fundamentally interconnected with the development agenda, then that is an extremely positive thing.
Complementing this achievement is the Addis Ababa accord on financing for development. While coming in for some criticism, it recognised the role of peace more than any of its predecessors. As perhaps a sign of the times, it also recognised a "peacebuilding financing gap" and made a commitment to step up efforts to increase access to peacebuilding finance. Another first. As Alert's Phil Vernon says in his recent blog, "A warm welcome to the SDGs".
We should, however, learn the lessons of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Donors are likely to recalibrate their policy frameworks in line with the SDGs and there will be a number of things they need to think about vis-à-vis the peaceful societies goal (SDG 16).
Firstly, as suggested in our joint statement from the peacebuilding community earlier this week, SDG 16 is not a prescription for peace. While not Swiss cheese, it certainly has a few holes. What was missing most though from both the accord on financing for development and SDGs outcomes was the need for highly tailored, conflict-sensitive, local solutions when it comes to addressing conflict. Most donors, however, are sophisticated enough to understand this these days, so we are likely to avoid a worst case scenario where donors recalibrate all peacebuilding funding along the lines of the targets under SDG 16. When it comes to rewriting strategies, we should be looking to the local context first before reaching for the SDGs.
Secondly, when thinking about other SDGs such as health, education and the environment, we need to think about peace. Some issues that intersect with the SDGs broadly such as gender were well integrated, but peace is largely siloed to goal 16. In fragile situations, an integrated approach is essential to the effectiveness and sustainability of all development and political efforts. Taking this approach acknowledges and acts upon the challenge set out in the declaration’s preamble when it states that "there can be no sustainable development without peace and no peace without sustainable development".
Thirdly, most people can agree on reducing poverty further, increasing economic development and promoting gender equality. The politics of peace is harder, particularly in situations where security is fragile and where self-interest predominates. There are many instances where governments are simply not prepared to act. Some states that laud the goals of the New Deal in an attempt to level the playing field with donors are sometimes less enthusiastic about other dimensions such as ‘inclusive politics’. We should capitalise on the collective commitment of the SDGs to engage more fully with the tough political agendas of the states we are trying to assist, where aid alone will not solve the problem. SDG 16 can help inform partnership agreements and shape political strategies. Foreign ministries take note! Diplomats working in fragile situations should be paying as much attention to SDG 16 as their development counterparts. We should move SDG 16 beyond a simple vehicle for financing to an entry point for pragmatic dialogue.
Fourthly, we must also support individuals, communities and organisations that seek to use the SDGs as a means to hold governments accountable and promote social and political change in difficult environments rather than taking an exclusively state, national government focused approach.
Finally, donors should use this as an opportunity to increasingly look at their partners, whether NGOs, multilaterals or contractors, operating in fragile and conflict situations. Is peace integrated into their agendas? If not, why not? Often peace is the kid picked last on the team. Sometimes it is not even invited to the game, as other priorities are perceived as more important, more immediate or more ‘photogenic’. This approach might win the game but loose the season, as peace is fundamental to sustainability in all contexts. So now is the time to change this. This need is only reinforced by figures that suggest we will not achieve SDG 1 on eradicating extreme poverty by 2030 unless conflict issues are addressed. That peace is a prerequisite for sustainable development in conflict-affected countries is in no way groundbreaking, but we have to keep reminding ourselves and our partners of this.
Ultimately, the MDGs were like prescribing aspirin for a broken leg. It might ease the pain, but is not going to address the problem. The SDGs offer us hope of a brighter, more inclusive agenda as well as a useful tool for furthering a platform for peace. Whether we achieve the aspirations we have set out today is another question. We do, however, look forward to working with you to maximise the potential of the goals.