The Peace Goal: Goal 16, the conflict trap and missing statistical capacity

This September the United Nations passed a treaty that agreed to destroy all nuclear weapons and forever prohibit their use; the International Day of Peace was celebrated, and the United Nations General Assembly discussed global progress in peace and development. In the midst of what became a peace-focused month, we investigate the progress made and the challenges that lie between here and the achievement of Goal 16.

A brief history

Sustainable Development Goal 16 is dedicated to the promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, and the provision of access to justice for all and building effective, accountable institutions at all levels.

The goal is the outcome of the international community’s acknowledgement that peace is fundamental to development. The adoption of Goal 16 the Sustainable Development Goals was recognised by the international peace community as a great achievement as the predecessor, the Millennium Development Goals, did not encompass violence and conflict.

The peace goal

Through Goal 16, the Sustainable Development Goals recognise the long reaching consequences that conflict and violence have on developmental outcomes. High levels of violence impact economic development by reducing foreign direct investment and broader macroeconomics such as interest rates and national productivity.

This directly affects poverty, life expectancy and educational outcomes, as well as indicators that are essential for long term development, such as infant mortality and access to services. Goal 16 measures everyday interpersonal violence, which affects all 163 countries through detrimental social and economic impact.

The conflict trap

Nations affected by armed conflict suffer what’s known as a ‘conflict trap’. This occurs when the impact of conflict further increases the risk factors associated with conflict. For example, low socio-economic development can support conditions that create violence, but it is also a consequence of violence.

Countries with weak institutions are more vulnerable to conflict, as they do not have an effective means for conflict resolution. In 2016, global losses from conflict were estimated to be $14.3 trillion (PPP).

Missing statistical capacity

Goal 16 is one of the most important – if not the most important – of the Sustainable Development Goals. Without peace there can be no development, and without development, there is unlikely to be peace. In the recently released Goal 16 Progress Report, analysis by the Institute for Economics and Peace finds that there are numerous methodological, political, practical and implementation issues around data collection and statistical capacity.

Left unchecked, these issues could undermine achievement of Goal 16. Currently, there is not enough official data or statistical capacity available at a national level to effectively measure Goal 16 in a relative and comparable way. Additionally, many countries (covering a significant proportion of the global population) do not have the required data to understand if their citizens have access to justice and strong institutions, or live in peaceful situations.

This lack of official data or statistical capacity means that secondary or unofficial data sources will become increasingly important in the measurement of Goal 16. Independent measures like the Global Peace Index and the Positive Peace Index will (further) become important global barometers of progress towards peace.

By the numbers

17: the number of Sustainable Development Goals

22: number of indicators for measuring Goal 16

7: number of indicators that have data for 90% of countries

15: percentage of businesses that stated that a bribe to a public official was expected during the course of business

19: countries that have a birth registration rate of less than 50%

72: percentage of countries that have seen a fall in the homicide rate over the past decade

From here to achievement

A clear understanding of available data and country performance is integral to developing policy and interventions, all of which are necessary to improve measurement of Goal 16 and to deliver the outcomes for peace, justice and strong institutions. The development of harmonised data to compare countries is a critical factor for accountability and the direction of resources where they are most required.

With National Statistics Offices holding responsibility for gathering official data, it will take them many years to build the necessary capabilities. This process requires sustained financial investment, as a well as knowledge transfer and extensive training. Third party data such as the Global Peace Index will be vital in providing an important benchmark against which to gauge progress and to audit National Statistics Office data.

In many ways, Goal 16 is the most ambitious of the Sustainable Development Goals and faces unique challenges, both in measurement and implementation. It has often been described as the ‘enabling or transformative goal’, as the other goals will be easier to achieve with the improvement of Goal 16. Without quality data and statistical capacity, it will not be possible to provide proper reporting and accountability of Goal 16, both critical factors for its achievement by 2030.