The approval of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (ASD2030) is a decisive moment for policy developments in the area of combatting transnational organised crime.
Approved at the UN Sustainable Development Summit in New York at the end of September 2015, ASD2030 supersedes the previous Millennium Development Goals. For the first time, it recognises organised crime as a serious obstacle to global development and serves as jumping board to critically analyse, understand and respond to the phenomena associated with it.
ASD2030 stresses the importance of integrated approaches. This is definitely a step in the right direction as the challenges presented by organised crime are diverse and pervade many different areas. In the past, the ability of the international community to respond to the threat of organised crime has been significantly hampered by the strong emphasis placed on the issue as a “security” threat, caught within the framework of law enforcement, justice and security.
The alternative approach presented in ASD2030 reflects transnational crime as a cross-cutting issue that impacts many areas of development which are targeted in others of the in total 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) – ranging from health to environment. Whilst countering organised crime is a central target in Goal 16 (“Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels”), 22 further targets will require combatting criminal flows or networks as well.
However, whilst it is a welcome and important advancement in the right direction, the success of the overall Agenda will be heavily dependant on its implementation, and there remains much to be clarified. National policymakers will have to be able to identify, understand and respond to the challenges of organised crime to the development of their countries, and progress against the goals and targets will need to be measured. The choice of the right indicators to appropriately measure and verify progress will have a stark impact on its future.
ASD2030 will be accompanied by a range of yet to be agreed indicators. These indicators will serve as guidelines to verify the implementation of the 169 targets. Therefore, they will be crucial in aiding policymakers to successfully implement new policies that deal with the nexus of organised crime and development. Currently, both global and national indicators are being developed by different actors such as the UN Inter-agency and Expert Group on the SDG indicators (IAEG-SDG).
For organised crime, however, selecting the right indicator could constitute a major challenge. Ideally, indicators to measure the size of transnational crime, and therefore the progress made in reducing it, are multi-dimensional and able to measure both scale and impact of the crime. Unfortunately, some targets ‘are vaguely formulated, thereby leaving much room for interpretation’. For instance, Goal 16 of the ASD2030 contains rather qualitative and broad concepts such as “governance” and “justice”. These makes the need for strong and meaningful quantitative indicators the more important for a successful implementation. However, indicators tend to be politically delicate at times, and there is a real danger that indicators that will be agreed upon will remain vague.
Another problem will be that each target cannot be expected to be sufficiently captured by merely one indicator. However, it seems highly unlikely that several indicators will be chosen for each target. Not only did the IAEG-SDG advise to choose relevant and practical indicators that are easy to communicate, but it has also been suggested that indicators should be supported by a broad international consensus. Such a consensus is likely to leave out politically delicate indicators. Moreover, although certain indicators could be used synergistically to capture several phenomena of transnational crime, there is a need to make these more flexible.
One major issue that remains is the lack of a clear framework around which we can understand, analyse and, subsequently, respond to transnational organised crime. Whilst the inclusion of organised crime in several targets of ASD2030 has been a crucial step, there is still much to be thought about and agreed on to make a global response to transnational organised crime powerful and effective. A lack of a common understanding of what constitutes organised crime, and uneven collection of appropriate data results in seizures and similar metrics being used simply to measure the size of the flow, rather than the impact of organised crime. From a development perspective, understanding the impact is critical.
Creating indicators that remain vague and do not push for greater advancements in for instance data collection would be fatal, not only for the overall success of ASD2030, but also be a lost chance to create a new framework of combatting organised crime. It is up to policy makers to use the momentum and create indicators that capture as broadly as possible not only the volume but also impact of transnational crime in a quantitative and qualitative way.
Overall, the approval of ASD2030 signifies a new stage in dealing with global sustainable development that takes into account the wide-ranging threats coming from transnational organised crime. Whilst it has become a commonly accepted doctrine that organized crime is a spoiler to peace and development, now has come the time for a serious debate on how to respond to it. The explicit mentioning of organised crime in SDG 16 and its linkage to several other SDGs targets will push towards a global process of analysing, understanding and responding to organised crime.
ASD2030 has the potential to lead the way towards a more development oriented response to transnational crime if the international community is willing to review its toolboxes and responses, and makes them more flexible and cross-cutting. The lesson that the impact of organised crime on development is a serious threat, and that development policies have to be part of overall policies to counter has been learned.
First published on the Global Initiative site, on 19 October 2015.