Why Integrated Implementation of the SDGs Will Help Build Peaceful Societies

Members of the polli shamaj, groups established across Bangladesh who meet to address issues in communities, attend a weekly meeting in Jessore. (Saferworld/Tom Martin)

With its comprehensive goals and re-affirmation of a partnership approach, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development reflects the aspirations of local communities working for peace across the world. The review of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16 during the upcoming High-Level Political Forum, and the overall review by heads of state and government, aim at mobilizing “further actions to accelerate implementation.” This recognizes an urgent need for multilateral organizations, governments, the private sector, and civil society alike to move beyond the policies and politics of the agenda towards the realization of all the SDGs.

How the SDGs will be realized is of utmost importance. Grounded local experiences of integrated SDG implementation, which link all relevant goals for more peaceful societies in a locally relevant and gender and youth sensitive manner, must guide the way the agenda is taken forward.

Everything Contributes

As a global civil society network composed of 200-plus local organizations working on conflict prevention and peacebuilding, the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflicts (GPPAC) rolled out a survey and discussions among its members to assess the interest in and knowledge of the SDGs, particularly the “peace goal,” SDG 16. Many members recognized and supported the 2030 Agenda, its universal character, the emphasis on partnerships, and the link between peace and development. They also asserted that “everything we do contributes to the SDG implementation.”

Government, civil society, and United Nations representatives have often repeated the idea that “everything contributes” to the SDGs in many meetings. Linking current priorities and the activities of local groups to the SDGs is the most immediate and easiest implementation step. It does not cost more and allows organizations and people to continue their ongoing work. This can, of course, be mere lip service paid to donors, bureaucrats, or policymakers, but it can also be an important step if the SDGs are practically linked to locally-lived realities and used for further awareness raising on key peace issues.

Justice Call for Rights and Development, a GPPAC member organization in Egypt, for example, has taken the SDG agenda and localized it with students and youth in a context in which human rights and civic space issues are particularly fraught. With the Egyptian government having developed its own Vision 2030 strategy, the SDGs open space for work by civil society which otherwise would be difficult to obtain, prompting our partners to look for ways to make them practically useful.

Through a series of trainings and workshops, Justice Call has educated young women and men about the SDGs. They considered SDG 16 on peaceful, just, and inclusive societies and goals relevant to youth, women, and peace and security in more detail. The trainees then apply the knowledge gained in specific actions that aim to advocate for justice and peace in their communities. Through this kind of work, Justice Call and other groups are responding to another key finding from GPPAC’s survey: the lack of local knowledge and information about the 2030 Agenda and goal 16, and a lack of clarity about its usefulness to their work at national or local levels.

We have observed that simply linking current work to the SDGs is not enough. There is an inherent risk in continuing to do whatever we are doing and just renaming it. Linking to the SDGs too often means keeping a narrow focus on specific approaches, hoping it somehow all comes together downstream when we assess progress. The 2017 review by the Netherlands for example, while comprising positive aspects in terms of inclusion, was criticized by civil society for simply “adapting current policies rather than drastically stepping up efforts.” Accepting that “everything we do contributes to the SDGs” without integrating the knowledge gained at the local level into reviews at the UN, leaves out an essential component for the meaningful implementation of the SDGs: the conscious effort to implement the goals in an integrated manner, which is necessary to build sustainable peace.

SDG 16 +: Integrated Implementation Matters

The SDGs not only capture the work of local peacebuilding and conflict prevention organizations in a holistic manner, but also present an opportunity to take their experience in contributing to peaceful, just, and inclusive societies and sustainable development in an integrated manner as the basis for broader SDG implementation.

For GPPAC members in the Pacific, for instance, the impact of climate change has established a need to link peacebuilding to climate change, human security, development, human rights, and women, peace, and security. Through the Shifting the Power Coalition (StPC), members in Bougainville, Fiji, Solomon Islands, Tonga, and Vanuatu are amplifying the gender, peacebuilding, and humanitarian nexus in line with the SDGs and the women, peace, and security agenda.

The coalition recognizes the importance of addressing humanitarian action from an integrated conflict prevention and human security approach. To achieve sustainable gender responsive alternatives, wider transformative change needs to take place by breaking down patriarchal structures and working through collective action. The StPC is the only regional alliance focused on strengthening the collective power, influence, and leadership of diverse Pacific women in responding to disasters and climate change, calling for a shift from reaction to prevention and for governments to put human security first.

Through the StPC, civil society groups are building on each other’s areas of expertise including the adaptation of the inter-operable Women’s Weather Watch information-communication system developed by femLINKpacific, as well as the application of peace education and dialogues to address the persistent under-representation of women in local government and governance structures and their lack of responsiveness to women’s security needs. This initiative addresses the specific security needs of women in the Pacific by tackling several SDG goals (7 out of 9 targets under goal 5, targets 16.2, 16.3, 16.7, and 16.10 under goal 16, and a series of targets under goal 13) in a comprehensive and integrated manner.

While goal 16 provides the lens through which GPPAC-linked individuals and organizations at first approach the 2030 agenda, they immediately add other goals that are central to the challenges that exist in their contexts. These include, among others, goal 5 on gender equality, goal 13 on climate action, goal 4 on quality education, goal 10 on reduced inequalities, goal 1 on ending poverty and, not least, goal 17 on partnerships. It is the global, indivisible, and fully-integrated nature of the goals that makes the SDGs so relevant to peacebuilders from Egypt, the United States, Thailand, or Ghana alike. This is the reason that, for GPPAC’s local peacebuilding members, SDG 16+—the term coined to refer to all peace-related targets across the 2030 Agenda—is more appealing and better reflects the actual work undertaken locally to drive peaceful, just, and inclusive societies.

However, the SDGs only answer the “what” question of sustainable development, they do not provide guidance on how exactly to go about achieving them. GPPAC members’ experience shows the need for localized adaptation of the 2030 Agenda in a way that includes all actors relevant for a specific context and reflects the issues faced on the ground. For the SDGs to become relevant, implementation of different goals must not be done in isolation; ensuring local groups focused on specific areas of work are connected for progress reporting by different agencies, ministries, and organizations is not enough. There must also be lateral links and local connection between the goals, involving all concerned people in the process. This is key for achieving sustainable change and should drive further implementation of the SDGs after the HLPF review.

Furthermore, the grounded evidence and inclusive experiences from peacebuilders across the world must be a central building block for the realization of the SDGs beyond 2019. Those stories are captured, for example, in the joint “Voices of SDG+” initiative of the International Peace Institute (IPI), Saferworld, and TAP Network, which GPPAC has joined.

Beyond these experiences, a practical and measurable framework is needed to show what interactions between which SDG 16+ goals are highly relevant, and the circumstances and approaches for how the goals can be addressed. This has prompted GPPAC to enter a partnership with the Institute for Economics and Peace to undertake research aimed at producing such a grounded framework. The framework should provide much-needed guidance to practitioners and policymakers alike on how to make necessary connections and to set priorities for future practical and policy implementation. The framework should also help ensure links between the goals and local implementation.

From a local perspective, an accelerated, integrated, inclusive implementation of the 2030 Agenda is the only way to meet the many different challenges faced on the ground. Enhancing, building on, and laterally linking the many different strands of work already undertaken to create and sustain peace before, during, and after conflicts is necessary. Only then can we address the deteriorating levels of peacefulness across the world. By doing this in an inclusive, gender and youth sensitive manner, we can help meet the peace and development goals set within the 2030 Agenda in a purposeful way. Without this, we will be waiting a long time to see if Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) will show progress down the line.

Pascal Richard is Managing Adviser, Policy and Advocacy for the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflicts (GPPAC). This article is the first in a series being published on the Global Observatory in the lead up to the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development at the UN in July.