Inserting a goal about peaceful, just and inclusive societies to the Post-2015 Agenda inquires an important question: can sustainable development truly work for human wellbeing?
The shift of perception, from “beneficiaries” of development assistance to “right-holders”, that makes SDG 16 so special, enables a human-rights based empowerment of citizens especially those from developing countries. It powerfully integrates an expanded social dimension – human wellbeing – into the environmental and economic perspective of sustainable development.
This is now more critical than ever as the world faces the largest ‘migration’ crisis globally, largely driven by war and environmental factors, as well as significant unemployment, lack of opportunities and persistent deprivations, which are also underlying drivers of conflicts. Some 135 million people may be displaced by 2045 as a result of desertification, potentially heralding a new era of “environmental refugees”.[i] According to the UNCHR, more than 60 million people are displaced globally and at the end of 2014, more than 19.5 million people were fleeing armed conflict or persecution. A smooth transition to new lives and opportunities, in safety and with respect, demands a more profound policy response at the national and global level than currently exists. As migration debates intensify in many developed countries, the universality of peaceful and inclusive societies becomes increasingly evident. The fact that action or inaction in one country can so easily affect the outcomes for lives, livelihoods, stability and even democracy in another is further evidence of a common but differentiated responsibility for peace and security including the need for universal commitment to the free expression and exercise of human rights.
SDG 16 mainly comprises two dimensions: social inclusion and the rule of law. The vast majority of Goal 16’s targets concern every aspect of peace and justice where the State should intervene to reduce: violence, torture and corruption as well as promote transparency; promote equal access to justice and improve the accountability of institutions, legal entity and so on. In the Post-2015 Agenda, SDG 16 states to “promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.”
Target 16.7 is a key innovative improvement compared to the MDGs. “Ensuring responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels” is a clear way of conceptualizing the core role of the human-rights based approach of development in the SDG agenda. It potentially transforms the relationship between governments and citizens, encouraging citizens to perceive themselves as right-holders and their governments as duty-bearers. Target 16.6 is a critical step forward as well, advocating for the transparency of institutions. It is another step towards state accountability now recognized globally as an important public good.
Fundamentally, exclusion and inequality in any and all forms undermine peace and security. The lack of these elements drives conflict and leads to displacement, refugeedom and migration. Bridging humanitarian action with development is fundamental to addressing inequality and vulnerability and the underlying causes of conflict. Conflict-sensitive approaches combined with negotiation, redress mechanisms, the rule of law and access to justice are critical enabling framework for resolving competing interests and power can help to pinpoint potential risk.
See the UNDP Administrator Helen Clark’s interesting speech about development challenges and opportunities in a changing world and get to know all SDGs on www.globalgoals.org. 2015 is the year of global action and the new development agenda offers us the chance to contribute to a more just and sustainable world. Engage and share!
[i] UNODC, The Land in Numbers: Livelihoods at a Tipping Point (2014)