Sustainability; arguably one of 2019’s buzzwords, a concept that people are becoming increasingly well acquainted with. Google Image search it, and the colour green dominates; green trees, green earths, green hands. Think about sustainability in everyday discussion, and Greta Thunberg, Tesla cars or a reusable coffee cup might come to mind. None of those associations are wrong. But they represent a fraction of sustainability – in fact, of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, only six (SDG 6, 7, 12, 13, 14, and 15) are directly linked to the environment, such as pollution and climate change. Yet, in everyday lexis, the other 11 Goals and the issues they tackle are often left out of the sustainability debate. One such goal that is too often overlooked is SDG 16.
Almost last, and arguably least in terms of awareness, Sustainable Development Goal 16 aims 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’. Break down this title: peace, inclusivity, justice, accountable institutions; these are important ideals that many people feel passionate about, and the Goal’s targets, such as reducing violent deaths, abuse and trafficking, ensuring equal justice for all, and targeting organised crime are issues not to be ignored. The goal even extends to representative decision making and access to information. Clearly, even when examined more closely, the sustainable agenda is about much more than reducing CO2 and recycling our waste.
As it turns out, SDG16 and the targets that fall within it are more relevant than ever – in fact, many of the biggest news stories of the past few years directly relate to SDG16. The murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi dissident and journalist, is a sustainability issue under SDG16, which includes an indicator relating to the number of kidnapped or murdered journalists. Record-high knife crime in Britain relates directly to targets regarding reducing violent deaths and gang activity – in fact, every death as a result of violence. Even the allegations of child sexual abuse aimed at Michael Jackson fall under the remit of SDG16, which calls for the end of abuse of all kinds towards children.
Widely discussed issues that seem to be covered by other goals are in fact also inextricably linked to SDG16. For example, women’s rights and the #MeToo movement – ostensibly, these are issues already covered by Sustainable Development Goal 5. However, a key aspect of ensuring gender equality is missing from the goal focusing on gender equality – justice for the women who are victims of discrimination or violence. The female victims of Jefferey Epstein are demanding justice through legal channels, in addition to raising awareness and ending behaviours like his; Harvey Weinstein’s victims are similarly in the process of taking him to court in order to achieve justice.
Clearly, SDG16 is being discussed – it is just that the issues it encompasses aren’t being recognised as relating to sustainability. However, arguably, this is the case with the majority of the 11 goals that sit outside of the environmental remit; there are three pillars of sustainability, yet the political and social are routinely not recognised as such. The privatisation of the NHS is a key battleground issue in the UK General Election, yet is rarely, if ever, framed through the Sustainable Development Agenda. Britain lobbied for the increased inclusivity of the goals, but now our government appears to have decided to ignore them. Going by the lack of discussion and awareness from our political parties (the Sustainable Development Goals are only mentioned once in any of the 2019 manifestos, unsurprisingly that of the Green Party on page 45), it would seem that all of the SDGs have been forgotten, not just 16.
Header image: Image by Zachary Keimig via Unsplash