Solving global challenges like poverty and sanitation requires building more capable states. Research from Seton Hall University outlines how the new Sustainable Development Goal on Peace and Governance can make a difference.
The UN Sustainable Development Goals are a new initiative guiding progress on global development for the next 15 years. “Goal number 16,” says Dr. Martin Edwards, Director of Seton Hall’s Center for UN and Global Governance Studies, “is an innovative goal that focuses on peace and governance by promoting peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, providing access to justice for all and building effective, accountable, and inclusive institutions at all levels. Goal 16,” he continues, “identifies a key problem: we cannot make progress on fighting poverty or disease or improving education without ensuring that national governments are peaceful, more capable and more responsive to their publics.”
Goal 16 contributes to the broader success of the SDGs by framing economic development as a political problem. This is essential because we know that countries undergoing civil war are those in which the development goals are less likely to be met, and that corruption and violence can certainly serve as a barrier to economic growth even in countries not embroiled in civil war. What Goal 16 does, then, is commit all countries to recognizing the important links between governance, conflict, and economic development. We cannot reduce poverty without more capable and more peaceful states.
Much of the policy commentary has been about the goals themselves, but we have not spent enough time talking about how we will measure progress in meeting the goals. The process of negotiating these indicators has been a process led by UN member countries. But the danger in exclusively relying on national governments is that the end result might fall short of aspirations. We know that international agreements can be ambiguous by design, as countries confronted with difficult issues can simply choose not to define them. This would strip Goal 16 of much of its influence.
There is a major role for the civil society and academic communities in helping to refine the indicators for Goal 16. Data on many of these key concepts have been gathered by these two groups for years. Given that one of the key themes of the SDGs is developing partnerships between the UN and civil society, a more inclusive approach to Goal 16 indicators based on third party data strengthens the country-led negotiating process. What is also needed is training for a new generation of voices that can better move between the realms of theory and practice. This is the goal of our new UN Studies certificate program to create not only scholars with better knowledge of the UN system, but also civil society personnel with the skills to translate academic research for the public. The 2030 Development Agenda requires ambition on the part of UN member countries, but also on the part of the academy to train the experts we need to create the world we want.