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FEATURE: Tackling climate change is crucial for achieving sustainable development goals in Latin America

Mathieu Lacoste and Helen Picot of CDKN report on a lively Latin American dialogue they organised in Bogota, Colombia to explore the integration of climate change issues in the post-2015 sustainable development framework.

As world leaders negotiate two major international agreements and frameworks for the post-2015 on climate change and sustainable development, CDKN is playing a leading role in organising dialogues in Asia, Africa and Latin America to understand the linkages between climate change and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

A few days after the Open Working Group released its report on the post-2015 SDGs agenda, CDKN hosted a workshop in Bogotá, Colombia in order to capture important lessons on the integration of climate change into the SDGs agenda in Latin American countries, as well as to strengthen the national discussion around challenges and opportunities to achieve a more sustainable future.

More than 80 participants from Colombia and other Latin American countries (Chile, Cuba, México, Bolivia, Ecuador), representing national and local governments, corporations, the banking sector, chambers of commerce from different regions, ethnic communities and civil society, attended this half day participatory dialogue. The presence of Pablo Vieira Samper, Vice-Minister of Environment and Sustainable Development, Faryde Carlier, Director of the Economic, Social and Environmental Department of the Foreign Affairs Ministry, Rodrigo Suárez, Director of Climate Change of Colombia and Helen Yaxley, Director of International Development in the British Embassy in Colombia, showed the strong institutional interest around climate change and SDGs agendas. It also demonstrated the commitment of the Governments of Colombia and the United Kingdom to creating a sustainable future for Colombia. These interventions contributed considerably to a common understanding of: the challenges of linking up climate change to the SDGs, the Colombian approach; and the opportunities for considering both themes in the national development agenda.

Pablo Vieira, Vice-Minister of Environment of Colombia, said: “Colombia has worked on the transition between the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the SDGs long before the SDGs were even discussed. Colombia was one of the leading countries proposing SDGs in the Rio+20 summit and we created five of our own SDGs to have an idea of what it could look like and start working on concrete actions in Colombia.”

A multi-stakeholder panel moderated by Marianela Curi, Executive Director of Fundacion Futuro Latinoamericano (FFLA), followed and discussed some of the most challenging questions surrounding the climate change and SDGs agendas:

i) the integration of climate change into the SDGs agenda – a stand-alone goal or a cross-cutting issue?
ii) the drivers to guarantee an effective integration that is beneficial for both agendas;
iii) the challenges of creating a robust position at the international level;
iv) the integration of these agendas into national development targets and its implementation in sectors and territories.

The opinions shared by the panellists served as a starting point for heated debate among participants. Marianela Curi said: “This experience has been really fruitful due to the diversity of actors who have actively participated (…) 2015 will be a crucial year for the future (…) Today we can’t speak about sustainable development without speaking about climate change, meaning that climate compatible development can’t be left-out.”

What to take away from CDKN’s workshop in Colombia?

This workshop proved very fruitful and allowed CDKN to capture interesting conclusions:

  • Sustainable development can’t be achieved without including climate change in the development agenda.
  • Even though there is not a clear consensus on considering climate change and SDGs jointly or separately, the outcome of the workshop is that it would be more relevant from a Latin American perspective to include climate change as both a standalone goal and a cross-cutting issue that would be mainstreamed into the different goals through specific measurable targets.
  • National policies, strategies and actions on climate change and SDGs in Latin America can’t be dependent on the outcomes of the international negotiations and be aligned with the negotiation cycle since countries’ needs are immediate. Moreover, the actions around core development and inequality issues require context-oriented solutions, which may vary from a country to another.
  • These themes are quite new for public policy-makers and the private sector, so there are still more challenges to face than concrete results to show.
  • Implementation is the key priority to show inspiring results and create a baseline for future actions.
  • The design of relevant and robust indicators will provide guidance and influence decisions in terms of Climate Change and SDGs.
  • Most of the LAC countries have adopted a sectoral approach to responding to climate and development challenges. Nonetheless, since the effects of climate change and socio-economic issues take place in regions and territories, it is fundamental to integrate more closely the sector and territorial components in order to get more effective results and impacts.
  • The climate and SDGs agenda is not yet part of the core strategy and planning of businesses. Therefore, clear signals on the benefits of including it (from legislation for instance) would trigger off actions that would be beneficial for both agendas and would help leveraging and channelling financial resources.
  • Constant communication in a clear and understandable language, building capacity, creating a critical mass of empowered actors at the national and local level, would help to convert climate change into a priority in the SDGs debate.

CDKN-organised dialogues create a platform for discussing how to overcome coordination and implementation challenges, as well as bridging the gap between regional and national levels, and between the public and private sectors.

Isabel Cavelier, AILAC, said: “In order to guarantee a full implementation of the SDGs and achieve strong results at the national level, we need to ensure some flexibility and have the chance to use them in a way that is relevant for every country.”
Rodrigo Suárez, Director of Climate Change of Colombia, said: “We have to get the message across sectors and position climate change and SDGs as a cross-cutting issue.”

What next?

Key messages from this discussion and others in Southeast Asia, East Africa and London will be captured in a briefing paper which will be disseminated widely and also presented to the Executive Office of the UN Secretary-General in advance of the UN Leaders’ Summit on climate change in New York in September. The paper will serve to make SDG and climate change linkages better understood, and help developing country voices to be heard.

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