The new section of the Future Needs Peacebuilding Blog focusses on Implementing Agendas for Peace. Under the premise that global arenas and agendas provide leverage points for peacebuilding dimensions, the blog articles focus on how well and future-oriented the peacebuilding dimension is set up in international and national systems. Andrew Tomlinson's opening article investigates the potential and challenges that peacebuilding actors face with regard to implementing the 2030 Agenda.
Peacebuilding advocacy in the global policy arena can provide extraordinary opportunities to influence international norms and standards. The successful multi-year effort to embed peacebuilding perspectives in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, including the SDGs, demonstrates both the potential and the challenges. But the inadequacy of the global policy response to the COVID 19 pandemic has shown that a focus on long-term peace and development is not enough. Looking ahead, if we are to demonstrate the centrality of peace, justice, and inclusion in addressing complex crises as the climate emergency takes hold, we must step up our focus on identifying and articulating the central issues at the heart of peacebuilding, in partnership with affected communities and practitioners, and bring those insights to our engagement with a broader range of policymakers than ever before.
Signed in 2015, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development set development priorities for a generation for all national governments, international financial institutions, multilateral and bilateral donors and development agencies. While the arena for the negotiations was the United Nations in New York, the impact has been felt around the world, and at all levels. Over four years, the efforts of a small group of dedicated diplomats, UN officials, civil society representatives and others, resulted in acceptance of an assertive insight: to do development in fragile and conflict-affected societies, attention must be paid to the social fabric, to issues like political inclusion, access to justice, freedom from violence and accountable institutions. But the 2030 Agenda goes further, saying that this is true for all societies, that factors like effective and transparent governance, and social, economic and political inclusion, are key to achieving all sustainability and development objectives, everywhere.
However, the achievement of embedding a commitment to 'foster peaceful, just and inclusive societies that are free from violence' in the keystone agreement of the development enterprise was political and normative rather than technical or operational. The inevitable realpolitik negotiations over several years that preceded the final agreement meant that there was neither a coherent detailed articulation of what peacebuilding tools and approaches contribute to the achievement of development objectives; nor was there any indication as to how the peace-related targets, albeit loosely collated as SDG16+, might be achieved. The lack of meaningful accountability mechanisms for the 2030 Agenda as a whole has meant that it is possible for governments and others to largely ignore addressing targets that they don't like. And, from a peacebuilder's perspective, there are key tools, such as reconciliation, mediation or peacemaking, that don't appear in the document at all - largely because the negotiators felt they had to stay well away from issues that might be seen to be the purview of the UN Security Council.
Six years on, at the end of 2021, it is clear that the efforts of peacebuilding advocates and their partners, working in the global policy arena at the UN, were successful in opening the door for more people-centered and sustainable development in countries around the world. By addressing root cause issues, the commitments to peace, justice and inclusion in the 2030 Agenda have provided new weight and energy to longer-term efforts to prevent violent conflict - forming the core of the efforts of the current UN Secretary-General to focus global policymakers on prevention as a primary goal of United Nations.
Nevertheless, the 2030 Agenda framework has proved challenging as a springboard for the efforts of peacebuilders and peacebuilding organizations to attract interest and support. While the glory of the peaceful, just and inclusive societies mandate is its comprehensive nature, an approach that goes far deeper than ever before into the internal and external root causes of conflict and fragility, this brings with it several big challenges.
One problem is complexity. Several strategies have emerged to address the challenge of a list of issues that is both lengthy and incomplete. One is simply to focus exclusively on one target – or even part of a target. As an example, consider the large amount of attention and resources going towards addressing violence against children, or local access to justice. Despite recognizing these critical topics, itremains important to not lose sight of the scope and power of the mandate as a whole.
Another noticeable strategy, particularly for some governments, is to ignore the richness of the full SDG16+ approach and to simply choose one target that serves political expedience. The focus on target 16a seems particularly relevant in this respect: “Strengthen relevant national institutions (…) to prevent violence and combat terrorism and crime”. Some states, including a number who know better, already use this as an excuse to divert development resources to military and security uses, or worse, to justify direct suppression of civil and political rights.
If the promise of the peace commitments in the 2030 Agenda are to be achieved, there is an urgent need for peacebuilders to recapture the power of the central insight of 2015 - that the achievement of all development objectives, of each and every one of the SDG targets depends on mainstreaming peace, justice and inclusion. The articulation of the core drivers of sustainable peace, and their relationship to development, has continued to move forward at a policy level (for example, in the UN World Bank study “Pathways to Peace”, and the Youth Peace and Security Progress Study), providing additional credibility and clarity. The time has come for a renewed engagement by the peacebuilding community with the SDG implementation and review process, based on this refreshed conception of the issues at the heart of building peace.
In September 2021, over 200 peacebuilding organizations issued a statement calling on governments and the international community to refocus on peace, justice and inclusion, in development, in crisis response, and in addressing the climate emergency. The statement, issued in advance of the opening weeks of the UN General Assembly session, and coinciding with the International Day of Peace, notes “As we face the stark human-made realities of a warming planet, we must redouble our peace efforts, to help mediate and navigate the immense shifts in power and resources that will be needed to forestall further avoidable temperature rise, to prevent and resolve the conflicts that may be exacerbated or precipitated by environmental destruction; and to prepare the path to a more sustainable, peaceful, and equitable future.”
The 2030 Agenda and the SDGs demonstrated that development gains are only sustainable if they are accompanied by efforts to foster peace, justice, and inclusion. But as the effects of the climate emergency are felt more broadly, the attention of policymakers will increasingly focus on looking for ways to address complex, multidimensional crises, that bring together the effects of conflict, displacement, climate change and environmental degradation, growing inequality and exclusion and more. This changing context sets up a complex new set of challenges for peacebuilding policy work at the global level. Can we find ways to demonstrate the potential of peacebuilding perspectives and tools as a central thread in designing and implementing holistic approaches to complex crisis?
The building blocks are in place. We know that for crisis response to be effective, it needs to be rooted in the experience and agency of affected communities, and tied to long-term efforts to further peace, development, and human dignity. It should be within our power to demonstrate that no technical or political solutions to complex crisis will be sustainable unless they are inclusive and equitable, foster trust, include mechanisms to address grievances and promote resilience, respect human rights, and leave no one behind. And the entry points are beginning to become clearer, for example, with the UN Secretary-General's recent report "Our Common Agenda" setting out an urgent call to governments to refocus their efforts, a call that includes proposals for a New Agenda for Peace and an Emergency Response Platform for Complex Crisis. As the Secretary-General noted in his remarks to the UN Peacebuilding Commission in October 2021: “we need to massively invest in prevention and peacebuilding (…) prevention must be based on better links between peace and security, human rights, climate and development work, focusing on factors that exacerbate grievances and drive conflict and violence”.
Engagement with global policy arenas such as the United Nations provides peacebuilding advocates with unique opportunities to leverage the insights and experience of local communities and peacebuilding practitioners around the world to influence international norms and standards. While the commitment to fostering peaceful, just and inclusive societies in the 2030 Agenda was a tremendous achievement, the next big frontier for global peacebuilding policy will be to demonstrate the contribution of peacebuilding perspectives and tools in addressing complex, multidimensional crises as the effects the climate emergency become more broadly felt.