The 2030 Agenda and SDG16+ were still somewhat abstract notions when I initially joined the Pathfinders team in February 2019. It took some time to become fully versed in all of their 36 targets and countless indicators, and get acquainted with all the partnerships, networks, initiatives, and individuals in this space.
However, as we cycled through marquee events in 2019 (the SDG Summit, and the High-level Political Forum during which Goal 16 was reviewed for the first time), and I set down roots among the SDG16+ community, one thing became clear to me: we can win on SDG16+ in the next ten years!
We can make rapid and tangible progress in implementing SDG16+ in the coming decade, which the UN Secretary-General himself called the “decade of Action and Delivery on SDGs.” Here are ten reasons why:
1. SDG16+ is starting to make sense. SDG16+ is not just a framework used by experts and bureaucrats. Increasingly, it has become the language of major campaigns and popular mobilizations. At Pathfinders, we speak of building a movement to halve global violence, finding politically viable solutions to end inequality and exclusion, and delivering people-centered access to justice for all, while ensuring that our governance institutions are accountable and responsive. Through new partnerships with actors that reach a broader audience with greater resonance, such as Global Citizen and Peace One Day, we are starting to welcome new voices into our community.
2. There is a SDG16+ community. Across the world there are dedicated government officials, policymakers, researchers, civil society activists, and ordinary individuals who are working to advance the vision of a peaceful, just, and inclusive world. Many of them are already well known; we meet them both in person (at conferences, networking events, countless meetings, and briefings) and virtually (through our popular webinar series, and via many early morning conference calls!) It’s a community that is forever evolving, and at times has disagreements, but is ultimately cohesive, like a fleet of ships moving in the same direction.
3. We have a plan of action. The fleet is moving in the same direction because we have a united vision for success, and instructions for course correction and further investment. We also have ammunition: a compilation of evidence of what works in country-level implementation of SDG16+. There are also annual opportunities to celebrate our achievements, and take stock of progress made. In the coming years, we must focus on adding propulsion and a sense of urgency to our efforts.
4. New high-ambition coalitions are coming together. An increasing number of government leaders are stepping up and doubling their efforts to accelerate action on SDG16+. Some countries are forming unique global north-south partnerships to innovate, fund, and implement policies to increase access to justice for all. Others are working with regional organizations to pilot networks supporting gender champions, both women and men, carrying out gender-equal small-arms control work.
5. Leaders at all levels of government are stepping up their efforts. Mayors across the world are stepping up to make a difference on SDG16+ implementation. The hope now springs from cities to step up action where many national governments have retreated in their efforts to deliver on the SDGs. There are energetic mayors pushing for bold action to reduce urban violence, violence against children, and violent extremism, all the while tracking progress on SDG implementation.
6. We can track commitments for action. The aforementioned examples of innovative action (see point 4 and 5) are no longer just anecdotal. UN DESA has launched the registry of Acceleration Actions, a central repository to track commitments on SDG16+ implementation. The actions on Goal 16 continue to have the highest numbers of commitments. However, to show real progress at the first-ever SDG Action Platform in September 2020, we need to increase those numbers by at least tenfold. We also need to then translate those commitments into measurable action at the national level.
7. The next generation is on our side. We know that youth activists have been marching for climate change in 2019. They have also been making a difference in their communities to advance SDG16+. The 16x16 campaign spotlights some extraordinary individuals working to promote gender equality, advocate for inclusion, and push back against the dominant sense of apathy.
8. Businesses, too, are joining in. Policymakers are turning to private companies for financing and greater mobilization on SDG16+. The UN Global Compact is working with businesses to step up their ambition across all the goals, including Goal 16, and now features a handy guide on how the private sector can contribute. What’s more, the Global Compact is rolling out a new Action Platform in 2020 to spur further engagement of the private sector in advancing the goals of peaceful, just and inclusive societies.
9. Universities are hubs for innovation. McGill University in Montreal, Canada, is running a first-of-its-kind course and fellowship on the SDGs. The UK’s De Montfort University has been named a global hub for SDG16, and is pioneering local initiatives and projects to advance the 2030 Agenda. Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania is among the first institutions of higher learning in the world to undergo a Voluntary National Review process (a practice previously limited to countries and a dozen cities) in order to help link its teaching, learning, and research efforts to the SDGs.
10. Localization, localization, localization. The SDG16+ community has internalized this mantra, and is ready to act in support of national and sub-national actors. It’s no longer enough to defend SDG16+ in global policy forums: we must scale the level of programmatic, research, and delivery support at the local level where it really matters. We need to move beyond talking about action to finally “doing SDG16+”.
As of recently, I have started to keep a folder on my desktop titled “happy stories,” where I am saving news reports and clippings of how SDG16+ is coming to life in all corners of the world. I look forward to sharing these in the coming months, and invite you to contribute by e-mailing them to me (firstname.lastname@example.org) or by tweeting to @francuzb.