SDG16+ and the Decade of Action and Delivery

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In the final article of a series on the SDG Summit, Pathfinders Director, David Steven explores priorities for the SDG16+ community over the next year. You can also read the first and second in the series and download a detailed review of what happened at the summit.

(UN Photo/Laura Jarriel)

SDG16+ after the summit

A brief recap from the first two articles:

  • We saw a strong mobilization for SDG16+ at the SDG Summit, with a practical focus on accelerating action to increase peace, justice, and inclusion. But — with the targets far off track — greater ambition and urgency is needed.
  • The SDG Summit itself was underwhelming and overshadowed by the Climate Action Summit. But climate provides a model for how the UN can increase urgency and create a platform for governments and other partners to commit to action.

The summit also offered a way forward for further mobilization on SDG16+. The Secretary-General used it to launch a Decade of Action on the SDGs. He will host an SDG Action Platform at the UN’s 75th anniversary summit in September 2020.

We also have an opportunity to contribute to a global conversation on “closing the gap” on the SDGs in the run-up to the 75th anniversary. This is an opportunity to build a new consensus on what it will take to accelerate progress towards more peaceful, just, and inclusive societies.

As well as the “climate envy” discussed in the second article in this series, I also heard talk of “justice envy” — as others working on SDG16+ noticed how active the justice partners were at the summit.

Other SDG16+ communities were visible as well. The big push on inequality and exclusion, for example. Or the continued work to prevent violence against children (though this remains frustratingly siloed with not a single Acceleration Action in this area).

This provides a lot to build on over the year ahead, but only if the pace does not drop now the summit is over.

Obstacles to action

During the Rockefeller/Brookings 17 Rooms event, the SDG16+ room explored three obstacles to implementation of SDG16+:

  • Lack of political will. The SDG16+ targets are politically challenging in all countries — and especially for increasing peace, justice, and inclusion for vulnerable communities at greatest risk of being left behind. Moreover, the political trendline after 2015 has been negative, as populism and repressive state authority reduce the space for action.
  • Fatalism blocks ambitious action. For me, this is the most important obstacle of them all. Many decision makers can be persuaded that violence, insecurity, injustice, corruption, poor governance, inequality, and exclusion are serious problems. But it’s much harder to convince them that change is possible and that results can be delivered within a political cycle that makes sense to them.
  • Weak and fragmented partnerships for change. SDG16+ targets can only be implemented through partnerships across sectors and through alliances between governments, civil society, and the private sector, as well as with people and societies. This can translate into weak ownership at both international and national levels.

To surmount these obstacles, we need a political strategy that encourages and rewards leadership — whether this comes from politicians or other change-makers within justice systems, or from activists, businesses or foundations.

Decision makers must also be connected to evidence of what works to build peace, justice, and inclusion (the INSPIRE strategies on violence against children are a model of how to do this). We must also communicate a positive case for investment to ministers of finance and of planning, to international donors, and to others who can invest in building peace, justice, and inclusion at scale.

Finally, space is urgently needed for strategic conversations at national and local levels that bring all sectors together around shared strategies for implementing SDG16+. Too often, we expect change to happen by magic, having done almost nothing to bring decision makers from across sectors together in a format that allows them to decide what to do.

Changing the game in 2020

As we move beyond the SDG summit, the Pathfinders see three broad priorities for SDG16+.

First, we need to highlight the challenges that matter most to countries, communities, and people:

  • Significantly reducing all forms of violence everywhere, at a time when violence is projected to increase by 2030. We should aim to halve global violence, echoing the big push to halve extreme poverty under the MDGs.
  • Shift from a world where justice is only available to the privileged few, to one that protects human rights and provides justice for all. More than 5 billion people lack meaningful access to justice, but we have a roadmap for delivering evidence-based and people-centered justice.
  • Combat corruption and transform institutions so that we can meet the aspirations of people and underpin the ambitions of the 2030 Agenda. Weak governance is an obstacle to the delivery of all 17 SDGs, while trust in institutions is at a dangerously low level in many countries.
  • Tackle inequality and exclusion so that all people have a stake in a fairer and more sustainable future. This becomes more important every day as a wave of popular disaffection undermines democracy, increases political instability, and undermines the collective action needed to implement the SDGs.

Second, we need to continue to build the “infrastructure” to support ambitious implementation of the SDG16+ targets. Sectors like health draw on what was done during the MDG era, while the climate mobilization goes back to the early days of the UNFCCC in the 1990s.

Urgent work is needed to identify data sources that are sensitive enough to show changes in how people experience violence, insecurity, injustice, and exclusion. We need research agendas to answer the questions that policymakers will be asking in the late 2020s. And we need to get much better at investing in what works. Above all, we need to invest in multisectoral platforms for delivering change at national and local levels, and to strengthen strategies for tackling the global and regional drivers that block progress towards peace, justice, and inclusion.

Third, we must unite to seize 2020’s political opportunities.

For each of the key SDG16+ challenges, we need analysis of what it will take to accelerate implementation. All major events should be used to feed into the global conversation on closing the gap, while networks must reach out to their members to ensure this conversation is inclusive and representative.

The second article of this series recommended that the UN keep open the registry of Acceleration Actions. If so, we should aim for at least 50 countries to register ambitious actions, supported by 500 or so actions from other partners. Building on the climate model, we need to bring together a “high ambition” coalition to put peaceful, just and inclusive societies at the heart of the SG’s Action Platform at the 75th anniversary summit.

Finally, we must broaden the mobilization for SDG16+.

(UN Photo)

This means building bridges from SDG16+ to other SDGs. There’s a lot of talk about SDG16+ as an enabler for the delivery of other SDGs, but we need to turn that into dynamic partnerships that demonstrate how justice can help the world deliver its climate goals, or how better governance can unlock education reforms, or how effective violence prevention can provide the conditions for growth in the countries and communities most at risk of being left behind.

We need to stop talking to ourselves and take SDG16+ onto the big campaigning platforms. A civil society coalition is gearing up to support the Decade of Action, while Global Citizen has launched “its biggest campaign yet… end extreme poverty, limit climate change, and flight global inequality by 2030.”

An acceleration of progress towards the SDG16+ targets can only happen if we empower the next generation to demand and deliver change. Across the world, young people are campaigning against violence, injustice, and corruption, and demanding that they are included in building a more sustainable future.

When they agreed the 2030 Agenda, leaders promised young people “a platform to channel their infinite capacities for activism into the creation of a better world.” It’s time to deliver on that pledge.

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