Comment & analysis

Peace finds its place at the heart of the new global development framework

3 August 2015 Thomas Wheeler

The new global development framework includes peace as a central and integrated part. While turning what’s on paper into change on the ground won’t be easy, the 2030 Agenda provides a lot to work with, says Thomas Wheeler – an explicitly people-focused agenda with broad ownership

Over the weekend, Member States at the United Nations in New York agreed on a new global development framework, “Transforming our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”. Although heads of state will adopt “The 2030 Agenda” at a high-level summit in September, the negotiations on it have finally come to an end. The 29-page document sets out universal goals and targets to guide sustainable development and poverty reduction over the next 15 years.

Three years ago, the political winds at the UN made it seem unlikely that peace would be affirmed as a key development priority in the new development agenda. But this document has made peace a central and integrated part of the world’s vision of progress. This is a rare moment when multilateralism has exceeded expectations and affirmed the right priorities – and should be celebrated. This means all the hard work of campaigners has been worthwhile – the painstaking compilation of evidence and arguments; the efforts to promote constructive dialogue all around the world; the lengths that civil society, UN officials and governments have gone to ensure people’s views were kept in focus in New York. We are proud to have played our role in this.    

The inclusion of Goal 16 on “promoting peaceful and inclusive societies” is especially welcome. Furthermore, peace has been recognised as one of five key areas for the whole agenda (the others being people, planet, prosperity and partnership) and as a crosscutting issue in Agenda 2030’s sister document, the Addis Ababa Action Agenda on development financing. Long missing from mainstream global development initiatives, peace now has a prominent place within a declaration that should redefine development with the buy-in of the whole United Nations.

The new development framework is by no means perfect. Despite the addition of the five P’s, the document still lacks a compelling and easily digestible narrative to tie together its huge scope. We’ve consistently argued that 17 goals and 169 targets risk making implementation so challenging that the agenda is either very selectively implemented or, worse, quietly ignored by decision-makers who already feel over-burdened. Furthermore, many of the global targets are not quantified, so it will be hard to decide whether they’ve been achieved by 2030. Nor is there a commitment by Member States to set quantified benchmarks for success at national level. This ambiguity will make it harder to hold leaders to account for the promises they sign on to in September. None of this is helped by agreement on a weak follow-up and review process. 

These weaknesses aside, there is a lot to work with. Many of what we believe to be the critical issues to achieving sustainable peace are addressed in the agenda. These include access to security and justice; transparent, accountable and effective institutions; controls on corruption; voice and participation in decision-making; and addressing transnational conflict drivers such as flows of arms and illicit finance. As well as seeking to reduce levels of violence, these issues are addressed in the targets currently under Goal 16. Furthermore, the exclusion that drives conflict is addressed across the framework, with gender equality being the focus of Goal 5 and economic and social horizontal inequalities targeted in Goal 10.

More generally, in today’s increasingly polarised world, a plan we can all share is no bad thing: the extensive consultation and negotiation process means that a broad range of constituencies have a sense of ownership over the 2030 Agenda. Despite being unwieldy, there is something for everyone to work towards. And it is positive that our state-centric international system has managed to deliver an explicitly people-focused agenda that envisions partnerships that go well beyond states.

It is also critical that the whole of the 2030 Agenda – including Goal 16 – will apply universally. Countries currently experiencing or emerging from conflict will require special assistance from the international community, especially if we are to meet the new goal of ending extreme poverty. But with its wider commitment to making all societies more peaceful and inclusive, the 2030 Agenda will also encourage a much-needed shift from reaction to prevention.

Global norms are important. But turning what has been agreed on paper into changes on the ground won’t be easy. While raising funds and building capacities will play a role, advancing the most transformative aspects of the 2030 Agenda will be dependent on confronting politically difficult and contentious issues at national level. Those ready to do this, including ministers, civil servants, parliamentarians and civil society at large, will quickly grasp how the 2030 Agenda is relevant to their own objectives and interests. All those who want to see the framework succeed now need to support wide ranging conversations across government and society, enriched by new data, to help the new goals find their meaning in each context.

The agenda will succeed or fail at national level, but global processes can still help enable effective action. Norms-wise, the Summit in September will be an important opportunity to demonstrate that political commitment to peaceful and inclusive societies exists at high levels and amongst a wide range of different stakeholders. But we will still need to figure out how to sustain such commitment through longer-term partnerships, mobilise the UN system and other multilateral actors, and best leverage existing global initiatives such as the New Deal or the Open Government Partnership.

Finally, if we are going to prevent conflict through identifying contexts where critical ingredients for peace are missing, we must ensure that the monitoring framework provides a clear and accurate picture of progress on the issues that really matter. Global indicators will be established in 2016 and each country is expected to come up with its own, context-specific indicators. However, agreeing on indicators is only half the challenge: while some data already exists, significant investment in raising the capacities of both official and unofficial data producers is still required.

The fact that peace is now universally recognised as a key development issue is a significant outcome. At the very least, it will help focus attention on contexts where people are vulnerable to unacceptable levels of violence. But, if we are able to think bigger, catalyse sufficient political vision, and make some strategic investments, the 2030 Agenda could be leveraged to address, at root, the interlinked development, humanitarian and security crises the world faces today.  

Thomas Wheeler is Conflict and Security Adviser for Saferworld.

Learn more about Saferworld’s engagement on the post-2015 development process here.


“The 2030 Agenda could be leveraged to address, at root, the interlinked development, humanitarian and security crises the world faces today.”

Thomas Wheeler

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