Background: what are the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals?
As a follow-up to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the UN, with the support of civil society, has been working on suggested language and targets for the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals through a format called an Open Working Group. The Open Working Group consists of Member State representatives and has been convening since January 2013 to discuss the new development agenda. The final version of the Goals are expected to be launched at the end of 2015 and are expected to impact the work of not just the UN and Governments, but also of NGOs in all countries as they touch on all aspects of life.
Of course, I would have liked to have seen Human Security mentioned in the new Goals. I believe that for development to really work, we need to put people’s basic needs and safety first However, the word ‘security’ can sometimes be problematic for states. It traditionally implies state security, which touches on the sovereignty of states. Also, within the UN system most ‘security’ issues fall under the scope of the Security Council, which brings with it a whole other level of politics. For this reason, ‘security’ is a difficult word to get into such a document. But even without using the words ‘Human Security’, the Goals can include lots of ideas inspired by a Human Security approach development by including peace and stability
The Outcome Document
In July 2014, the Working Group released their Outcome Document – based on consultations that took place throughout 2013 and 2014 – outlining the Sustainable Development Goals and targets they propose as the baseline for negotiations. You can read the Outcome Document here. This document will be discussed at the UN General Assembly’s General Debate in September 2015 and lead to a report by the UN’s Secretary General in November 2015. The report will form the baseline for further international negotiations throughout 2015. The UN is planning to coordinate national consultation processes to bring in the voices of civil society and other non-state actors in many regions. Negotiations are expected to end in the fall of 2015 and then we will start to use the new development framework from 2016.
So what does the Outcome Document have to say? I will take a very quick look at the things I like about it, and also the things I think could be improved in relation to peace and security.
Some thoughts on the Outcome Document
Right in the introduction, at point 4, they say: ‘People are at the centre of sustainable development’. Although this doesn’t refer to putting people’s needs and safety first, it’s about listening to what people need in their lives—and that is something we can all agree is important!
Taking the Human Security approach, I’ll take a very brief look at how the document does on the Three Pillars of Human Security: Freedom from Fear, Freedom from Want and Freedom from Indignity.
Freedom from Want is very well represented; with mentions for reducing poverty (goal 1) and improving food security (goal 2) and the way we deal with our resources (such as goal 6 and 7).
Freedom from Indignity is always more difficult to define, but Human Rights I see represented in the education goal (goal 4) and the goal for equality and empowering women (goal 5).
Freedom from Fear, the one perhaps most directly asking for greater safety, is reflected in several goals. To begin with, we can see a part of the fourth goal on education as working towards Freedom from Fear: ‘promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence’. This goal is meant to work on peace education, thereby tackling conflict at the root. I do think it’s a shame it isn’t made a little bit more concrete, for example by mentioning carrying out these ideas in national curricula.
Goal 16 is where we see the clearest mention of peace, which is directly related to a life free from fear:
Promote peaceful and inclusive societies, provide access to justice for all and build effective accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.
This goal was and continues to be debated quite a bit. Some countries worry about it opening the door for counter-terrorism activities to be funded under Overseas Development Assistance, while others oppose it altogether claiming it touches on internal issues too much. While some of these concerns are legitimate, at the same time it could be argued that without supporting peaceful societies the other development goals are unlikely to succeed. This goal, which focusses entirely on peace, is in my view truly essential to the success of the Sustainable Development Goals.
The wording on the peace goal could, however, be improved. ‘Promoting peace’ isn’t very concrete and doesn’t present a specific outcome to work towards. How will we know when we have successfully ‘promoted peace’?
Overall, I think we can be very proud of the Outcome Document. It could certainly function as a guiding document for a holistic approach to development, which is what we want to achieve by putting Human Security First. Now we must make sure that the peace goal, goal 16, makes it into the final document of Sustainable Development Goals! We’ll keep you up to date as the process continues, here at the Human Security First blog.