The goals have been set. The priorities are clear -- and there are many. From ending age-old problems of poverty and inequality, to the more modern but equally vital issue of saving our planet and its diminishing resources -- the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a reflection of the daunting and wide-ranging challenges our world is facing and the scale of the action required to overcome them.
Ambitious -- yes. They have to be. A global vision for a transformed world demands ambition. Are the SDGs realistic? Yes -- but with one critical qualifier. The success of Goal 16 will determine the outcomes in 2030.
Why do I believe that? Fifteen years ago, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) also attempted to create a new global reality. However, the absence of governance and accountability in the planning and execution of the MDGs is largely why poverty, hunger, health, education, gender and inequality once again feature so prominently in the new sustainable-development agenda. Governments were not held accountable for reneging on commitments. There was a mismatch between national budget provisions and national development plans. Corruption, lack of political buy-in and capacity to implement the MDGs at an institutional level contributed to the slow pace of progress.
The SDGs are the first major UN agreement to include action on governance in an acknowledgement of that fact. Goal 16 on peace, justice and the building of effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels is a mandate for the firm political change that is needed. It is the key to unlocking progress on the 16 other goals for it will shape their implementation and management.
The institutions that have the unique responsibility for the ratification of international agreements, ensuring governments keep true to their commitments, passing the necessary laws and overseeing their effective implementation, and just as importantly, ensuring resources are in place to meet the goals through the approval of national budgets, are parliaments.
The Ugandan Parliament's refusal to adopt the national budget a few years ago unless more resources were allocated to maternal and child health -- a national priority and two of the eight MDGs -- illustrated the power of parliaments in holding governments to account. It also underscored that financing for development was as much a national responsibility as an international one.
A 2012 Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) resolution on maternal and child health laid the political grounds for parliamentary action in Uganda and since then, in other African countries. It was the commitment of parliamentarians to tackling an issue -- which in this case affects women and children, the majority of their constituents -- that made the difference. The combined actions of these national parliaments can act as a groundswell for regional change. Taken further, it can lead to the required global impact.
Goal 16 has rightly emphasized the need for both societies and institutions to be inclusive. Social, political and gender inequalities, marginalization or exclusion undermine national stability. As the institution that reflects the political will of the people and that provides the space for political differences to be resolved, parliaments must deliver inclusiveness.
This can happen in any number of ways. Political representation is one. Hence our work with parliaments on increasing women's representation and transforming them into institutions that embody and deliver on gender equality.
Young people's perspectives in political decision-making, particularly on education and employment, have also never been more needed. The IPU Forum of Young Parliamentarians created three years ago has provided a unique and empowering conduit for young politicians to plug into international decision-making processes -- such as the SDGs.
But inclusiveness is also about making institutions more open and accessible to the people so they can participate more actively in making the decisions that govern their lives.
Parliaments have recognized this and are finding their own and often innovative ways to reach out to the people so they can input into draft legislation, follow parliaments' daily work, and hold the institution and politicians that represent them accountable for their protection and well-being.
Transparency of information and interaction with parliaments through rural bus tours, such as in Ecuador, or regular community visits in many countries, or producing animated films on parliament in the United Kingdom, as well as using social media, can only reassert people's faith in democracy and the rule of law.
Although parliaments have recently committed to fully supporting the SDGs using their legislative, budgetary and oversight powers, it is also clear that not all parliaments are ready for the enormous challenge. Financing for development will require strengthening parliaments' capacities to help deliver the SDGs.
Governments, in turn, must support parliaments in their efforts and embrace the outcome of that support as a firm belief in democracy. Governments will ultimately be responsible for resourcing and empowering the institutions that will act as the checks and balances to their policies. For Goal 16 to fully succeed, governments must let parliaments and parliamentarians do their job -- and do it thoroughly.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post, "What's Working: Sustainable Development Goals," in conjunction with the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The proposed set of milestones will be the subject of discussion at the UN General Assembly meeting on Sept. 25-27, 2015 in New York. The goals, which will replace the UN's Millennium Development Goals (2000-2015), cover 17 key areas of development -- including poverty, hunger, health, education, and gender equality, among many others. As part of The Huffington Post's commitment to solutions-oriented journalism, this What's Working SDG blog series will focus on one goal every weekday in September. This post addresses Goal 16.