By Simone Galimberti*
KATHMANDU | 2 February 2024 (IDN) — There is an overall perception to see SDG 16 as a goal only centred on peace, while it is much more than that. That thinking is founded on a false premise that narrowly and too considers peace as the absence of war.
Debunking this myth has been a consistent effort on the part of a group of stakeholders, including governments, that instead want to see SDG 16 as the foundational goal of the whole Agenda 2030 Architecture.
This work has been centered on a much more, I would say, progressive, concept of peace that, instead, should be seen as an all-encompassing set of goals that, if achieved, would ensure that societies become not only more united but also more just for all their citizens.
In this way, implementing the SDG 16 is about inclusion, cohesion, accessible justice system, peaceful local communities. It is also about responsive, participatory and transparent forms of governance.
(According to the UN, Goal 16 is about promoting peaceful and inclusive societies, providing access to justice for all and building effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.)
Rule of law
Focusing on the whole picture, on all the segments and sub-elements covered by this goal, implies also a much broader definition of rule of law.
For example, the World Justice Project defines it as a “durable system of laws, institutions, norms, and community commitment that delivers four universal principles: accountability, just law, open government, and accessible and impartial justice”.
Getting the SDG 16 right is a prerequisite to fully comprehend the importance of this wide-ranging definition. Doing it remains instrumental to bring about the changes in the governance systems that are indispensable if we are serious to implement the Agenda 2030.
Here enters the concept of SDG 16 + as a real catalyst for actions related to all the sustainable development goals. The Road Map for Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Society, a document that really is centered around leveraging the concept of an expanded SDG 16, explicitly refers on how the Agenda 2030 itself was conceived on this idea of good governance.
“The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development calls for: Peaceful, just and inclusive societies that provide equal access to justice and that are based on respect for human rights (including the right to development), on effective rule of law and good governance at all levels, and on transparent, effective and accountable institutions.”
A recent event organized by International IDEA, Pathfinders and TAP Network , conducted on the sidelines of the ECOSOC Partnership Forum tried to renew the attention on discussing the concept of SDG 16+.
It is key to talk about the current status of implementation of SDG 16 because, according to the latest Global progress report on Sustainable Development Goal 16 indicators: A wake-up call for action on peace, justice and inclusion, there is still so much that should be done in this area and unfortunately, we are way off from achieving its targets.
Over the courses of the interaction, held online in which also H.E. Minister Kenyeh Barley, Minister of Planning and Economic Development of Sierra Leone intervened, there were a lot of emphasis on the concept of multistakeholder partnerships, as the engines to allow the radical transformation of the governance system.
I really like the idea of innovative partnerships even though sometimes it is really hard to pin them down in a very pragmatic, tangible way. That’s why I do often wonder what we are really talking about here.
What could help bringing clarity to my confusion is the concept of localizing the SDGs that rather than being a planning tool “monopolized” by local bodies, should instead be seen as a way to really provide new venues for people participation in the decision-making.
Aiming at pursuing this difficult shift, enabling more people to express their voice and have a real power with it, is, at the end, at the essence of the SDG 16 + concept.
The same Roadmap for Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies, offers authoritative guidance on this regard. “Institutions must be reconfigured to meet the challenges that matter most to people. An institutional renewal will underpin goals for people, planet, prosperity, and peace”.
It continues with the following:
“Many feel excluded from their societies and from globalization. Greater inclusion and empowerment will enable growing numbers of people to work together for a better world”.
But there is a problem.
I do not really see a serious discussion, as part of the conversation about the SDG 16 + on one of its most relevant targets, SDG 16.7.2. It is focused on “ensuring inclusive and responsive decision-making for sustainable development” and the UNDP Oslo Governance Centre dedicated a policy brief on it and this is something that is truly worth a reading.
Also totally absent from the conversation on the SDG 16 + are those networks and associations representing local governments that, as we know, are those who are the most invested into SDGs localization Agenda.
For example, the Global Task Force of Local and Regional Governments, an umbrella body representing a myriad of local governmental entities, was running its own side event program during the ECOSOC Partnership Forum.
The Pathfinders, the initiative of the Center on International Cooperation at New York University, one of the most committed stakeholders pushing for the implementation of SDG 16 + is neglecting participatory governance.
Instead, the Roadmap, highlighted earlier in this piece, proposes some innovative strategies and, some of these, are really about better forms of participation.
For example, the so called “Renew” Transformative Strategy aims at “transforming institutions so that they can meet aspirations for a more prosperous, inclusive, and sustainable future”. “Involve” is about “including and empowering people so that they can fulfil their potential to work for a better future”.
Also, the Global Accountability Report, is very clear on the importance of having in place different, more responsive and participative institutions.
“Actively facilitate an enabling environment through the support of inclusive and meaningful participation for all stakeholders, particularly civil society, and marginalized groups, at every level—local, national, and globa—that emphasizes broad ownership at each stage of the development process—planning, implementation, and review— to lay the foundation for authentic accountability”.
According to the same report, all the stakeholders must step up.
“All stakeholders should work to advance an enabling environment that facilitates open, participatory, and accountable governance that is proactive in engaging with citizens and the most marginalized communities”.
This is not happening yet because it is a difficult conversation focused on sensitive topics like bottom-up democracy and deliberations.
Getting SDG 16 right with all its interlinkages and its strategic importance is paramount so that our humanity can get to year 2030 with better, rather than wracked, world and planet in place.
Investing on inclusion, equality and justice, the latter indispensable to eradicate corruption, something confirmed once again by the recently published Transparency International’s 2023 Corruption Perception Index are all essential.
But it is also essential a broader discussion on a much broader and more inclusive and daring concept of good governance. The Road Map for Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Society could not put it in a better way.
“Good governance should not be seen in isolation, but is a task for all sectors and parts of society” while “poor governance is a threat to the delivery of all dimensions of the 2030 Agenda”.
Ultimately, we should all, including those in power, be clear on the following:
“We cannot achieve our goals for people, planet, prosperity, and peace without effective, accountable, and transparent institutions”.
*Simone Galimberti writes on SDGs, democratization and regional integration. [IDN-InDepthNews]
Image source: United Nations
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