The global debate on what development framework will replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is nearing its conclusion. After two years of discussions, the post-2015 development agenda is currently being negotiated at the United Nations Headquarters and will be formally adopted at a high-level summit in September 2015.
Debates on the post-2015 agenda so far have consistently agreed that the new development framework must advance not only sustainability and poverty reduction, but also, crucially, peaceful societies, justice and good governance. The Open Working Group (OWG) of the General Assembly on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) has agreed on an outcome document,1 which includes SDG 16 on peaceful and inclusive societies, the African Union has included peace and security as one of the key pillars in its Common African Position (CAP) on the post-2015 Development Agenda2 and the Secretary-General of the United Nations recently reaffirmed the importance of the peace agenda in his Synthesis Report.3
Although the majority of States have backed an agenda for sustainable peace, the inclusion and framing of SDG 16 on peaceful and inclusive societies remains sensitive for some Member States. Attaining genuine political buy-in to the peace agenda among these States will therefore be key to adopting, implementing and monitoring an effective post-2015 framework over the next 15 years.
Why is Peace in the Post-2015 Agenda so Important?
We cannot achieve poverty eradication and sustainable development without tackling conflict and insecurity: there is a large and increasing gap in MDG performance between States affected by high levels of violence and other developing countries.4 Strikingly, all of the seven countries unlikely to meet a single MDG by the end of 2015 have been affected by high levels of violence in recent years.5
However, violence and insecurity are universal issues affecting people’s well-being in all nations, not just conflict-affected ones:6 For example, in Brazil, the homicide rate is one of the highest in the world7 with 56,000 people violently killed in 2012;8 in South Africa, the murder rate from 2014 was around five times higher than the 2013 global average;9 and in the United States of America, the number of homicides in 2013 was 4.9 per 100,000 (compared to the average homicide rate of below 0.8 per 100,000 in developed countries).10 It is often those in the most marginalized sectors of society who are affected by violence. For many of the poorest countries in the world, it is impossible to reduce poverty significantly and achieve economic growth as long as violence and insecurity prevail—by 2030, 75 per cent of people in extreme poverty will be living in countries at risk from high levels of violence.11
Peace, justice and effective governance are increasingly seen by people as not only development enablers but development outcomes in their own right. In fact, according to the more than 7 million people, including those from sceptical countries who participated in My World, a global United Nations survey, protection against crime and violence and an honest and responsive government rank among the top six development priorities.12
What Kind of Peace Should Be Included in the Post-2015 Framework?
In light of the above, the post-2015 framework should put people at the core of the peace agenda—everyone, not only those in conflict-affected States, should be able to lead peaceful, fulfilling lives, free from violent conflict and insecurity. The international community must focus on ensuring a positive, sustainable peace and not solely “negative peace”—the mere absence of violence—as it can often mask latent instability. Ultimately, all countries are at risk from violent conflict and people across the world face insecurity in their daily lives. In order to ensure a positive, sustainable peace, all States would need to reduce the risks of violent conflict and insecurity by promoting issues such as reduction of corruption, equal access to justice and security, and political inclusiveness for all social groups.
What Are the Main Concerns about the Inclusion of Peace?
Although their scepticism can be partly attributed to negotiating tactics, some of the concerns raised by Member States with regard to the inclusion of SDG 16 are substantive. We need to take these concerns seriously, discuss them, and provide reassurances to mitigate them if States worldwide are to join hands in implementing the post-2015 framework rather than only grudgingly accepting it.
One of the most common concerns is that the inclusion of peace will lead to a “securitization” of the development agenda, with aid being used to advance the national security agendas of particular States, rather than to promote development for people. Member States could mitigate this concern by agreeing on a common set of principles—for example, that SDG 16 is about people’s security and peace within society and not primarily about national security or international peace and security between States. Some States also fear that the inclusion of peace might lead to the violation of countries’ sovereignty. However, the post-2015 agenda is non-binding, preventative and focuses on how countries themselves can improve their situation rather than what the international community can impose on them.
In addition, some States have argued that development enables peace and not vice-versa. Nonetheless, while inclusive development can certainly help address the root drivers of violent conflict and insecurity, the over whelming evidence tells us that the relationship between the two is two-way. Apprehensions have also been voiced that peace-related targets could translate into new aid conditionalities and that peace cannot be measured. However, these concerns are not well founded, since the risk of conditionalities is equally low for all targets in the post-2015 framework and although capacity gaps currently exist, peace is already being measured in a number of contexts.
Is the OWG Outcome Document a Strong Basis for Peace?
There are many reasons to be positive about the OWG outcome document. First and foremost, Member States have recognized peace as a priority issue, which needs to be addressed at a goal level. Additionally, the proposed targets in SDG 16 broadly reflect the key issues necessary to achieve a positive and sustainable peace. In addition to two targets on reducing violence, SDG 16 also includes targets that focus on the most important drivers of conflict including justice, corruption, transparency, fundamental freedoms and participatory decision-making. It is also positive that global drivers of conflict—including flows of arms and illicit finance—are addressed, as they will require global action and coordination.
Lastly, peace will need to be addressed across the whole development agenda to make a difference for people on the ground. It is therefore significant that targets on gender-based violence are included in SDG 5 and that horizontal inequalities between groups are dealt with in SDG 1 and SDG 10.13
Is There Room for Improvement?
Although the current targets are promising, there is room for technical fine-tuning, which could be performed by experts within the United Nations system in order to preserve the delicate political balance that the OWG outcome document represents. Making the target language more quantifiable and consolidating the framework by cutting down the number of targets will make it more feasible to implement the framework on a universal basis and to monitor development progress over the next 15 years. Some of the language could also be improved to meet existing international commitments.
Many of the targets would benefit from having a clear focus on actual outcomes rather than on capacities and processes. Some targets even risk leading to coercive approaches to security such as target 16.a, which commits to “ building capacity at all levels...to prevent violence and combat terrorism and crime”.14
How Can A Truly Universal Post-2015 Agenda Be Achieved?
In order for the post-2015 framework to have an impact, universality is essential. A non-universal framework would make it very difficult to hold Governments to account to meeting the targets to which they have agreed. Therefore, we need a global set of shared indicators that motivate action and allow for cross-country comparison. At the same time, however, a universal framework must still be context sensitive. This can be achieved through more context-specific indicators that complement the universal set of global indicators and that are agreed upon at a national or even regional level. Furthermore, unless stated within the universally agreed targets, benchmarks and the pace of progress should be defined at the national level.
How Should the Post-2015 Framework be Implemented?
Although a renewed and strengthened global partnership for mobilizing the means of implementation is necessary, the implementation of the post-2015 framework should not overlook the many existing global initiatives to build more peaceful societies. For example, the Geneva Declaration—endorsed by over 100 States—aims to achieve measurable reductions of armed violence in conflict and non-conflict settings.15 Presented and widely endorsed at the Fourth High-Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Busan, Republic of Korea, on 30 November 2011, the “New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States” proposes five key peacebuilding and State-building goals as a focus for cooperation between 19 conflict-affected States, development partners and international organizations.16 Indeed, through this New Deal process, conflict-affected States are starting to pilot the use of 34 common indicators to measure progress across five peace goals, which can inspire and inform the post-2015 indicator framework. In addition to these global processes, there is a wide range of national-level initiatives and experiences from which other countries will be able to draw as they plan their own paths to meeting the targets in SDG 16. In this regard, creating partnerships and enabling cross-country learning should be a key component of implementation.
In conclusion, with 50 million people currently displaced by violence and conflict around the world, global collective responses to addressing the root causes of violence and insecurity are necessary.17 The post-2015 development framework represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to ensure multilateral action—grounded in development and focused on people—to prevent violent conflict.
1 United Nations, Report of the Open Working Group of the General Assembly on Sustainable Development Goals, 12 August 2014 (A/68/970). Available from https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/focussdgs.html.
2 African Union, Common African Position (CAP) on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, Heads of States Summit, January 2014, p.14. Available from http://www.acordinternational.org/silo/files/common-africa-position-on-post-2015.pdf.
3 The Road to Dignity by 2030: Ending Poverty, Transforming All Lives and Protecting the Planet. Synthesis report of the Secretary- General on the post-2015 sustainable development agenda, December 2014 (A/69/700), p.19. Available from http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A%2F69%2F700&Submit=Search&Lang=E.
4 United Nations System Task Team on the Post-2015 UN Development Agenda, Peace and Security: Thematic Think Piece (United Nations Peacebuilding Support Office, 2012), p. 5.
5 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Fragile States 2014: Domestic Revenue Mobilisation in Fragile States (Paris, 2014), p. 17.
6 Geneva Declaration on Armed Violence and Development, More Violence, Less Development: Examining the Relationship between Armed Violence and MDG Achievement (Geneva, 2010), p. 4.
7 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Better Life Index, Brazil. Available from http://www.oecdbetterlifeindex.org/countries/brazil/.
8 Robert Muggah and Ilona Szabo de Carvalho, “For Brazilians, security is their No. 1 concern”, The Toronto Star’s Commentary Section, 4 June 2014. Available from http://www.thestar.com/opinion/commentary/2014/06/04/for_brazilians_security_is_their_no_1_concern.html.
9 Institute for Security Studies and Africa Check, “Fact sheet: South Africa’s Official Crime Statistics for 2013/14”, Africa Check, AFP Foundation, 2014. Available from http://africacheck.org/factsheets/factsheet-south-africas-official-crime-statistics-for-201314/.
10 United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Global Study on Homicide 2013: Trends, Contexts, Data (United Nations publication, Sales No. 14.IV.1), p. 43.
11 Laurence Chandy, Natasha Ledlie and Veronika Penciakova, “ The Final Countdown: Prospects for Ending Extreme Poverty by 2030”, Policy Paper 2013-04, No. 42, Global Views Series (Washington D.C., The Brookings Institution, 2013).
12 See United Nations, My World survey. Available from http://data.myworld2015.org/.
13 United Nations, Report of the Open Working Group of the General Assembly on Sustainable Development Goals.
15 Information about the Declaration is available from http://www.genevadeclaration.org/the-geneva-declaration/what-is-the-declaration.html.
16 Information about the New Deal is available from http://http://www.g7plus.org/new-deal-document/.
17 United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Global Trends 2013 (Geneva, 2014), p. 2.