“Every Country Is A Developing Country” – An Interview With David Nabarro on Sustainable Development and Conflict Prevention

A Conversation with Special Adviser on the 2030 Agenda David Nabarro about Sustainable Development and Conflict Prevention.

In today’s globalized world, everything is interconnected. Combating climate change, working towards gender equality, promoting good governance and the peaceful resolution of conflicts — these are all issues that touch on everyone’s lives. This is what David Nabarro, Special Adviser on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, highlights when talking about the new set of global developments goals: Since all these topics are relevant to everyone and have to be tackled on a global scale, every country is responsible for contributing to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. In our conversation with Dr. Nabarro, we wanted to know how he views the integration of a sustainable development perspective into DPA’s work on conflict prevention:

Dr. David Nabarro at a press briefing. UN Photo/Loey Felipe

Dr. David Nabarro at a press briefing. UN Photo/Loey Felipe

One of the most important characteristics of the SDGs is that they apply to all countries: They are neither recipe nor prescription. Why is this so important?

David Nabarro: The sustainable development goals that were agreed by the members of the United Nations in September 2015 are designed to be universal. They apply to the whole world: To all peoples and all nations. This was how indeed the planned sustainable development goals were conceived in 2012.

It was anticipated that universal goals are critically important if we are going to deal with the major challenges that affect the sustainability of the world’s people and the planet. Many of the issues that are covered in the sustainable development goals are issues experienced by all countries: For example climate action, Goal 13; or oceans, Goal 14; sustainable consumption and production, Goal 12; women’s empowerment and gender equality, Goal 5: all relevant to everywhere.

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If we don’t have every country taking action on climate change; if we don’t have every country focusing on the conditions of the oceans and seas, the consequences will be bad for everybody in the world. That’s why in the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development every country is a developing country. And every country needs to contribute to these goals.

Every country should report on how they are doing and indeed issues like health, education and also access to food and ending hunger should be looked at within all countries, because we find that even in some of the wealthiest countries in the world have major inequities when it comes to these basic needs. So in summary, this is a universal agenda for all people, for every country and in that respect: Every country is a developing country.

One of the criticisms of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) was a lack of accountability to determine how countries were realizing the goals. How do the SDGs address that gap?

The MDGs were a set of goals to be applied to the world’s developing nations. And because they were about activities that would be undertaken in a subset of countries, there were always ambiguities as to who was responsible for them to be realized. Was it the people and governments of the countries themselves? Was it the people and governments that provided development assistance? Or were they a global responsibility? I think for most people, the Millennium Development Goals were seen as a global responsibility but because there were some uncertainties, when the Sustainable Development Goals were developed and then agreed in 2015, it was clear to all: The responsibility for implementation rests with the leaders and governments of all nations. It’s a collective responsibility and indeed all 193 nations of the world have themselves accepted this responsibility in a total way. And that of course makes the question of who is accountable much easier to define: The accountability rests with the nations themselves.

When one says accountability, one also talks about governance. The SDG specifically addressing strong institutions, peace and justice — Goal 16 — is seen as especially important for DPA in its conflict prevention work. How do the goals as a whole contribute to preventing conflict and achieving peace, beyond just Goal 16?

The Sustainable Development Goals represent this long-term plan for people and the planet. They are reflecting some of the global imperatives for the future, not just of current generations, but of generations to come.

Now, when you have goals that are the responsibility of all, it’s extremely important to have mechanisms that enable collective responsibility to be taken to ensure that the necessary actions are implemented. To do this systems of governance are key. They are actually systems that look at the political process through which decisions are made to ensure the goals are achieved. Some of these decisions relate to the extent to which people can access the things that they need for life, like health, or education or water. Some of the goals represent what people need to be sure that their planet is sustainable. Some of the goals focus on ways and patterns of economic growth and prosperity that is spread among all people. And one of the goals reflects the importance of having rule of law and institutions that ensure justice, particularly when it comes to the resolution of conflict, resolution in ways that are non-violent.

You could actually argue that all the goals require that kind of institutional capacity for them to be properly implemented -– institutional capacity that permits non-violent management of conflict and encourages redistribution in favour of those who are most likely to be left behind. That’s why for many, Goal 16, is not only important in itself, but also as an absolute necessity to ensure the good governance that is required for the sustainable development goals to be realized. And I personally accept that because in my judgement, based on my personal experience: Without good governance it’s extremely difficult to ensure that there is equitable access to the benefits that are available in our world and to ensure that wealth, income and prosperity are equitably distributed between women and men, among all people in society, between those that are able-bodied and those that are disabled and so that there is a fair and just access for all, whatever their circumstances.

What adjustments does DPA and others, working on peace and security, need to do to help countries achieve the SDGs?

The thinking behind the sustainable development goals was one that recognized the interconnectedness of all aspects of people’s existence. It recognized that as well as requiring the basic needs for life, people also need to be able to access an environment that is safe and they can support their existence, that they also need to be able to be protected against violence and against any kind of upheaval and that they need to work in partnership with others for their well-being.

Now, politics is all about how people access and use power, for themselves or their communities, for their families because power is a key variable to determine whether or not people are able to look after themselves and get what they need. When used well, power is remarkable. It can lead to real transformation, bring benefits to everybody. And if power is used to encourage redistribution so that everybody gets access to basic needs then that too is very good. In the United Nations, the Department of Political Affairs is one of the entities which help to ensure that people are able to benefit from the proper use of power and to avoid the misuse of power. The Department of Political Affairs uses diplomatic means to ensure that the proper use of power is promoted and to discourage the improper use of power. And it’s groups like the Department of Political Affairs who are able to address some of the major challenges that actually come in the way of enabling people everywhere to benefit from the fruits of development and also to benefit from a safe and sound environment on our planet.

I believe that the work of the Department of Political Affairs, particularly its preventive diplomacy is absolutely critical to being able to advance the sustainable development goals and I believe that the work in the Department of Political Affairs that addresses what happens when power is misused is critical for helping to remedy situations that are working against people’s interests and to hopefully achieve rapidly a rebalancing so that power is properly used for all.

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