No Sustainable Development Without an Environment of Peace

No Sustainable Development Without an Environment of Peace “There can be no sustainable development without peace and no peace without sustainable development”. This is one of the most memorable phrases in the Preamble of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. But does its second half get the attention, and the analysis, it deserves?

All too often peace seems to be treated as a background condition for sustainable development, not as an outcome. But climate change and other environmental crises are already devastating livelihoods, fueling conflicts and thus jeopardizing peace and security for millions of people. As we get further into the 2020s, we urgently need to deepen our understanding on how inaction—and even the actions we take to mitigate and adapt to environmental crises—can increase risks to peace.

This year’s High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development is spotlighting both Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 13 (Climate action) and SDG 16 (Peace, justice and strong institutions). However, they are feature in separate thematic discussions, and neither the background paper on ‘building more peaceful, equal and inclusive societies’ nor the one on ‘revamping and transforming consumption and production and address and mitigate climate change’ mentions climate-related security risks or any interaction between SDG 16  and SDG 13. Are we missing an opportunity?

Climate security risks

It is important to discuss the interactions between SDG 13 and SDG 16 not just because of growing evidence that the impacts of climate change are reinforcing conflict. Also, these interactions are complex, dynamic and rarely direct. Rather, they are mediated by other goal and target areas like food and water security, livelihoods, marginalization and injustice, and natural resource management.

These kinds of second- and third-order interaction are not easily picked up by simple interactions analyses and SDG progress metrics. A recent paper by SIPRI introduces four well-evidenced pathways of climate-related security risk in the most vulnerable countries, but even these simplify shifting combinations of context-specific environmental and socio-economic factors.

Climate change impacts are set to intensify and to affect more countries and more people more frequently. Their salience for sustainable development prospects will only grow. We must understand better the risks they pose to peace.

Perils of the sustainability transformation

The 2030 Agenda is unachievable without a “major structural transformation in the way people live, work, produce and consume”. With every passing year towards 2030 the needed transformation becomes harder, steeper, more disruptive.

Among other things we need to wean ourselves off fossil fuels and other carbon-intensive and polluting industries on which many communities, regions, national economies rely. We need to find alternative ways of meeting the energy demand for securing food, clean water and habitation–while simultaneously building resilience to the impacts of climate and other environmental change, both rapid and slow-onset.

Yet again, all of this is fraught with human security risks. We must avoid building in fault lines that could slow or even unravel progress. We must share both benefits and costs of transition equitably. We must ensure the right voices are heard, particularly of those who are most affected. And we can, and must, use the transition to reduce conflict risks and to promote an environment of peace. Success in this will depend on effectively managing the interactions between SDG 16 and SDG 13.

Time to talk

Although the proposal to review SDG 16 annually at the HLPF is now off the table, thematic discussions dedicated to interactions between SDG 16 and SDG 13 (or indeed SDG 14 on Life below water, or SDG 15 on Life on land) are urgently needed.

Other opportunities to explore these interactions and to act on them must be explored. The implications of climate change for UN peacebuilding have already been discussed more than once in the UN Security Council, most recently in February this year. The Global Alliance for Reporting Progress on Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies has done valuable work drawing attention to SDG 16–SDG 13 links. This kind of analysis could inform the preparation of national and regional SDG implementation strategies and reviews; as well as SDG progress metrics and reporting.

If there is no sustainable development without peace, it is time we talked about how to protect it.

Jürg Staudenmann, Karolina Eklow and Caspar Trimmer all work on the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) initiative Environment of Peace.

Environment of Peace is preparing a report to be launched in 2022 that will synthesize the best available evidence on environmental change and its societal impacts around the world, and offer practical policy advice for successfully navigating the nexus of peace and security in the decade of delivery and beyond.


No Sustainable Development Without an Environment of Peace
There can be no justice to the Sustainable Development Goals without an environment of Peace


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