The international commitment to peace has never been greater

The Sustainable Development Goals represent the growing recognition of the way violence and insecurity set back development.

After 15 years of working on the United Nations’ (UN) Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – an unprecedented effort to improve the lives of the world’s poorest – an important realisation became clear to the international development community: violence and war prevents many countries from achieving their goals.

Fragile and conflict-affected countries achieved significantly less progress than other developing countries in the MDGs. On average, only 16 per cent of these countries met or made progress on their MDG targets. Fragile and conflict-affected countries were on average 25 per cent more likely to have missed their MDG goals than other countries.

In 2016, UN member states agreed on a new set of global development goals including a clear direction to strive for peaceful and inclusive societies. Sustainable Development Goal 16 (SDG16) specifically promotes peace, justice and strong institutions and is part of the broader Sustainable Development Goal (SDGs) framework, a plan that mobilises countries to address poverty, fight inequalities and tackle climate change.

The inclusion of SDG16 is a major achievement of the international community and recognises how violence and conflict can undermine development. Overall, the global commitment to peace has never been greater.

The Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) is dedicated to analysing data to understand peace and launched one of the first comprehensive progress audits into SDG16 indicators and recently released its third audit in a series. Building on previous work, the SDG16+ Progress Report expanded scope includes SDG16+, a larger framework of indicators connected with peace, justice and inclusive societies. The report includes an overview of accessible data, other sources of data that are useful as proxies, a likely timeline for obtaining missing data, and case studies from ten countries demonstrating ways to collect datasets that are currently unavailable.

While the inclusion of SDG16 demonstrates important progress for international peace of the international community, major measurement and implementation challenges remain. The SDG16+ Progress Report shows that data availability continues to be a significant issue for SDG16+. Just four of the 44 indicators have data available for all 163 countries tracked by IEP in its Positive Peace Index. Only two indicators have a trend series of five or more years for 163 countries. Official data is available for only 15 of the additional 33 SDG16+ indicators. Of the remaining 18 indicators, IEP has identified proxy measures for eleven.

SDG16’s full objective is to “promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.” The goal contains 12 targets, including a reduction in all forms of violence and related deaths everywhere, the promotion of the rule of law at the national and international levels to ensure equal access to justice, ensuring public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms according to national legislation and international agreements.

Higher levels of violence greatly affects economic development by reducing foreign direct investment and the broader macroeconomic environment. This affects poverty, life expectancy and education outcomes, as well as indicators, which are essential for longer term development such as infant mortality and access to services.

Low socioeconomic development can support the conditions for violence, but it is also a consequence of violence. The two are mutually affective, forming either a virtuous cycle of improvement or a vicious cycle of deterioration. Losses from armed conflict alone in 2017 were estimated by IEP to be nearly US$1.02 trillion in purchasing power parity terms. The cost of violence to the global economy was estimated by IEP to be $14.8 trillion or 12.4 per cent of global gross domestic product.

In many respects, SDG16 is the most ambitious goal of the SDGs. It has also been described as an enabling or transformative goal, in so much as that many of the other SDGs will be easier to achieve, by improving SDG16. Without peaceful, just and inclusive societies, the world will be unable to reach the broader SDG targets.