Peace and the 2030 Agenda – beyond the summit glow

7 October 2015 Larry Attree

Agreeing the 2030 Agenda is a major achievement, says Larry Attree, but it’s what we do next that really matters to those affected by violent conflict and insecurity.

I was recently in New York when world leaders signed up to the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Not without its shortcomings, the agreement is nonetheless a remarkable achievement and encompasses many key aspects of development. However, as the glow of the Sustainable Development Summit fades, it is time to turn our attention to the harsh reality of increasing conflict and violence which hurts us all and traps the poorest and most vulnerable.

In recent years the incidence of armed conflicts – including outright wars – has increased sharply, putting longer-term advances in global peace at risk. Strikingly, 2014 was the deadliest year since 1989. The protracted conflict in Syria accounts for many of these lost lives, but battle-related deaths increased substantially in other conflicts too. According to research by the Uppsala Conflict Data Program, of “the ten conflicts with the most fatalities in 2013, eight became more violent in 2014”. In addition, one in every 122 humans alive today is either a refugee, internally displaced, or seeking asylum, with some countries facing huge pressures. Lebanon, for example, hosts more than one refugee for every four residents. Tellingly, last year the world spent $13 on defence for every $1 of Overseas Development Assistance.

In peaceful, wealthy nations, people also fear today’s growing instability. The refugee crisis has prompted a compassionate reaction from many – but this reaction has remained shallow and short term. Meanwhile, the media portray terror in a way that has prompted a panic-stricken amnesia about what causes conflict and how to get to peace. In the face of instability, we see minor adjustments to refugee quotas, a return to militarism, the reinforcement of strongmen and their police and armies, while civil society space shrinks around the world and political freedoms come under threat. We see a world of nations acting in the individual, short term interest and not the long term, human interest.

This model of security is deeply flawed. The destructive force of violence has not provided a solution to the problems facing countries such as Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Afghanistan, Yemen and South Sudan. Their people cry out for us to apply the lessons painfully learnt by past generations that violence, corruption, injustice and authoritarian rule lead to suffering and instability, something that only peacemaking tools can overcome. The world needs a long-term vision that speaks to the roots of our deepest problems.

The 2030 Agenda can provide us with part of this vision. It aims to ensure equal participation in decision making, action on corruption and the flow of dirty money away from those who need it, access to justice and legal identity, a commitment to end violence and action on inequality, in every walk of life, for every person – most importantly, for women. These are the people’s priorities, and this is the world they want their children to live in. They need peace as they need clean air, water and food.

Listening to their priorities, and uniting behind peace, justice and development in the 2030 Agenda, took a lot of effort. Not only should those governments and organisations who championed this be congratulated for a major achievement – but also those who had concerns about the inclusion of these issues, but who still managed to reach this crucial global consensus.

Nonetheless, to make a real difference to people’s lives we now need three things:

  1. A focus on people – As we define priorities to fit each context, we need inclusive consultations where we keep listening to the people that the 2030 Agenda is meant to serve. Accountability to the public must remain at the core of the implementation process.
  2. A strong commitment to implementation – We want all stakeholders to make public their plans to advance Agenda 2030 in the next 100 days. Creating indicators and targets and collecting data to track and uphold the ambitions set out in Goal 16 on peaceful, just and inclusive societies is now a top priority.
  3. Collective action – The world’s people must continue to live in a multilateral world, but they shouldn’t have to live in a world where nations compete at each other’s expense. Indeed, good development intentions won’t achieve anything without an end to the irresponsible arms trade, tax evasion and environmental abuse. Peace requires realignment with the common good even when this affects the profits and privileges of the few. Only through collective global action, focused on the common good, can we advance equality, sustainability, prosperity, and peace all at once.


We stand ready to support the implementation of the 2030 Agenda by galvanising political commitment, catalysing the collection of the data we need, strengthening communities on the ground, and supporting lessons sharing. Saferworld will continue to work to ensure that peace, equal participation, people’s security, gender equality and justice remain at the forefront of the world’s development efforts over the next 15 years.

Larry Attree is Saferworld's head of policy.

Read more about our work on the Post-2015 agenda

“The world needs a long-term vision that speaks to the roots of our deepest problems. The 2030 Agenda can provide us with part of this vision.”

Larry Attree