Summarizing SDG 16 as “peace, justice, and strong institutions” means losing the essence of its content. This SDG should be understood as integrating the 2030 Agenda through institutions and processes that promote, ensure, and create conditions for citizen-led democracies. In my opinion, SDG 16 and SDG 17 on partnerships are goals that stall all the others if no progress is made. I will now explain the reasons for this claim.
The complete formulation of this SDG in the 2030 Agenda is “promoting peaceful and inclusive societies, providing access to justice for all, and building effective, accountable, and inclusive institutions at all levels.” This highlights key issues needed to gain a deep understanding of this SDG. For example, the word peace is as important as inclusion, as both are tied to action for sustainable development. In this case, peace is not only the absence of violence but the liberation of the fear of being attacked, excluded, losing jobs, and falling into poverty.
Justice means access to justice for all as a means of ensuring the effective enjoyment of rights, but also inclusive access to institutional support to enforce them in the event of violations. Finally, strong institutions are “effective and inclusive” and are accountable for their actions, which the SDG calls for at all levels (and sectors as well). The commitment is establishing institutions that focus on effectiveness as a management guide, participation as an organization, and accountability as a form of corporate governance.
Viewed as a whole, SDG 16 refers to primary conditions that make it possible to achieve the other goals, as all of them require conditions of social peace and dialogue, institutions, and key elements to achieve the 2030 Agenda. For this reason, SDG 16 asserts the principle of interdependence regarding institutional management and governance. It also reinstates the Leave No One Behind principle while promoting access to rights and active and participatory democracy.
The scope of implementation of SDG 16 is clearly seen in its 12 targets (10 outcomes and 2 processes) and 24 indicators covering interpersonal, social, gender-based, and child violence; human trafficking; access to justice; corruption; illicit financial flows; transparency, accountability; discrimination; inclusiveness in public decision-making; participation in international organizations; protection of journalists and social leaders; and access to information.
To accelerate the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, we need to strengthen progress on SDG 16. That is why Cepei developed the governance quality index for the national implementation of the 2030 Agenda, a virtual tool that is freely accessible and adaptable to each user’s needs.
This index focuses on the roles and responsibilities of institutions leading SDG implementation and tracking in Latin American and Caribbean countries. It is based on the recognition of the “three Cs”: Championing (the ability to lead processes), Convening (the ability to bring together stakeholders in a coordinated effort), and Communication (the ability to be transparent and support dissemination and awareness of the SDGs).
Through a qualitative analysis exercise that groups nine variables under these three dimensions, the study of the 33 institutions established to lead the implementation, tracking, and review of the SDGs at the national level in LAC shows that at the regional level, the capacity for championing is the strongest, with an average score of 77.12 points out of a possible 100 points, putting it in the high category. However, stakeholders’ capacities for communication and convening reach 48.48 and 36.36 points, respectively, indicating essential shortcomings.
The reasons for low scores can be explained as follows:
- The almost total exclusion of representatives of the parliaments, the judiciary, and State technical bodies, such as comptrollers or ombudsmen, from the work of the institutions leading the national implementation and tracking of the 2030 Agenda.
- The inclusion of non-governmental actors at intermediate levels of decision-making processes, usually in an advisory role, without specifying how their input should be used.
- The absence of data-driven work mandates.
- Lack of institutionalized mechanisms for accountability, dissemination, and awareness of the 2030 Agenda and its SDGs.
LAC needs to reinforce both the implementation and tracking of SDG 16. According to ECLAC, in 2023, there is only information about 11 of the 24 indicators associated with SDG 16. While seven of these 11 show insufficient progress to reach the targets by 2030, the other four seem to have taken steps back.
In terms of targets, that means that of the 12 targets associated with SDG 16, five are progressing too slowly to be achieved on time, three have moved in the opposite direction, and we need more information on the other four. This outcome, as mentioned above, negatively affects the implementation of the other SDGs since, with the foundation provided by SDG 16, it will be easier to move forward and even more challenging to do so quickly.
The SDG Summit to meet this year, and the Summit of the Future in 2024, are opportunities to strengthen global and regional governance of sustainable development, which could have a cascading effect at the national level. However, this will only happen with a coordinated multi-stakeholder effort to uphold the ambition of the 2030 Agenda and create data for evidence-based action.