UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16 – importance of participatory institutions & policymaking

The UN adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals at the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit in New York in September 2015. FDSD Trustee Janos Zlinsky was active in the development of these Goals as part of a UN Open Working Group (OWG) formed in 2013, whose discussions and proposals formed the basis of the agreed Sustainable Development Goal Agenda.

These Goals will replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) from the beginning of 2016. Whilst they continue the focus on eradicating poverty, they also include universal goals of addressing unsustainable patterns of consumption and production, and protecting environmental resources.

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The Goals, particularly through SDG 16, tackle another omission of the MDGs, that of governance, inclusion, participation, rights and security. The Goal’s aim 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 different sub-goals that make up SDG 16 are set out below. Because of our focus on participatory democracy and governance, we are particularly interested in two of these, namely:

16.6 Develop effective, accountable and transparent institutions at all levels

16.7 Ensure responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels

Much of the discussion of this highly controversial SDG has focused on reducing violence, security, the rule of law, and creating strong, inclusive and effective institutions to deliver justice and public services, alongside the difficulty of creating appropriate targets and metrics.

SDG 16 is both an end in itself, and a crucial part of delivering sustainable development in all countries. It has in fact been seen by many commentators as being the transformational goal and key to ensuring that the Agenda can be accomplished.

There is a danger though that a focus on the fundamental underpinnings of a safe and inclusive society, which are critical, may mean that 16.6 and 16.7 are not recognised and developed appropriately to truly enable delivery of the SDGs across all countries.

Young child waiting to receive dental care. Sri Lanka

Image: Simone D. McCourtie / World Bank

Cat Tully, FDSD Trustee, for example, underlines The critical role of effective, accountable and inclusive institutions in implementing the Sustainable Development Goals, alongside widespread participation, in being able to address the complex issues thrown up by sustainable development, such as climate change, inequality or security. It may be argued that SDG 17 – the Means of Implementation – addresses this challenge through its focus on policy coherence and delivery through multi-stakeholder partnerships (17.14 and 17.17). However, it does not fully address the needs for widespread participation and accountability in monitoring, design, implementation, and scrutiny, as well as in addressing the ‘crisis of democracy’ in many countries.

FDSD Trustee Graham Smith addresses these issues in Options for participatory decision-making for the post-2015 development agenda, commissioned by a UN Expert Group Meeting on the Sustainable Development Goals.

Other relevant and reinforcing sub-goals are 16.10 on public access to information, 12.8 on public awareness and education on sustainable development, and broader Agenda calls for transparency, appropriate data, and participation in design and review of goal implementation.

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SDG 16 Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels

16.1 Significantly reduce all forms of violence and related death rates everywhere

16.2 End abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence against and torture of children

16.3 Promote the rule of law at the national and international levels and ensure equal access to justice for all

16.4 By 2030, significantly reduce illicit financial and arms flows, strengthen the recovery and return of stolen assets and combat all forms of organized crime

16.5 Substantially reduce corruption and bribery in all their forms

16.6 Develop effective, accountable and transparent institutions at all levels

16.7 Ensure responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels

16.8 Broaden and strengthen the participation of developing countries in the institutions of global governance

16.9 By 2030, provide legal identity for all, including birth registration

16.10 Ensure public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms, in accordance with national legislation and international agreements

16.a Strengthen relevant national institutions, including through international cooperation, for building capacity at all levels, in particular in developing countries, to prevent violence and combat terrorism and crime

16.b Promote and enforce non-discriminatory laws and policies for sustainable development