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Sustainable Development Goal 16: A tool for a fairer, more peaceful world

I recently participated in a consultation organised by International IDEA and the Community of Democracies on the UN’s sustainable development goal #16. That goal calls on all countries to promote peaceful and inclusive societies, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions. I was pleased to join the discussion because SDG 16 is very much at the heart of our work at the Kofi Annan Foundation.

The purpose of the consultation was to review and discuss the role that global and regional organisations can play in assisting countries to achieve SDG 16. In my intervention at the workshop, I made three points, which I think bear repeating.

First, I commented that SDG 16 could well be considered as SDG 1. That is not to say that the SD1 –  “the ending of poverty in all its forms everywhere” – is less important. However, unless there is substantial progress on SDG 16, which is about developing peaceful, lawful, and inclusive societies, it will be difficult to fully achieve all the other goals.

My second point was to emphasize that – like all of the goals – SDG 16 requires political will. That may be a truism, but more than any of the other goals, SDG 16 is about politics and the manner in which a nation governs itself. The SDGs provide a globally agreed set of policy objectives and quantifiable norms. Nevertheless, if those goals are to prove truly durable and resilient, they have to be willingly imported, accepted and domesticated by individual countries; they cannot be exported. Governments and peoples must want and work for the goals; they alone can mobilise the political will that is needed to secure the promise of the SDGs.

My third point focused on the key dimension of the workshop: the role of global and regional institutions and organisations. The aspirations expressed in SDG 16 ultimately stand or fall at the national level. Nevertheless, I believe that global and regional partners can make a difference. For one thing, they can help adapt global goals to regional and local realities. They can share experience within and between regions. Most importantly, because these organisations have legitimacy, reach, and collective influence, they can hold their member states accountable to the standards that those states have freely accepted by signing on to the SDGs.

I was involved in the early work that led to the Millennium Development Goals. At that time we didn’t openly evoke governance issues because they were considered too sensitive politically. Fortunately, the SDG agenda takes us beyond that earlier reticence. We can now say publicly what we felt but did not express almost two decades ago.

The SDGs provide a wonderful opportunity to advance human progress. We must seize this opportunity by building coalitions for change in support of SDG 16. That is our ambition and mission at the Kofi Annan Foundation.

Alan Doss
Executive Director, Kofi Annan Foundation