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FEATURE: Where next for the debate on climate change in the SDGs?

CDKN’s Helen Picot, Mairi Dupar and Nicholas Moss report on debates about the role of climate change in the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals – and what happens next.

Climate change is well reflected in the current draft for the UN’s Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the successor to the Millennium Development Goals; this is vital because stamping out extreme poverty relies on building resilience to climate change, and preventing extreme climate change through ambitious mitigation efforts. However, the 17 goals on the draft list form a large and unwieldy number and are likely to be slimmed down. As this happens, concerned governments must work hard to maintain a strong climate emphasis.

These were the conclusions of a debate among expert speakers and more than 100 participants in-person and online on the role of climate change in the SDGs. The event was convened by CDKN and the Overseas Development Institute in London in September, and featured CDKN’s Regional Directors, the Lead for the UK Government’s Post-2015 team and many international analysts. It saw the launch of the CDKN Working Paper The Sustainable Development Goals: Will they deliver climate compatible development for vulnerable countries? and marked the culmination of a series of international dialogues on this subject. (Watch the video of the event online.)

Views from Asia, Africa and Latin America

The event followed three developing country dialogues held by CDKN – in Colombia, Kenya and Indonesia – to better understand how developing countries want to see climate change integrated into the SDGs. These dialogues engaged a broad spectrum of stakeholders from across government, civil society, academia and the private sector in these countries.

Ali Tauqeer Sheikh, CDKN Asia Director , left Islamabad for the London event as flooding inundated hundreds of Pakistani communities. Climate impacts are having an ever-more detrimental effect on poverty and human resilience in his homeland, he said, and global policy frameworks must reflect this ‘new normal’.

Carl Wesselink, CDKN Africa Director, also regularly witnesses climate change-related flooding or water scarcity and extreme heat. Setting an ambitious framework for governmental action on climate change through the SDGs will be important, he said. But realistically, commitments are only voluntary, and it’s equally important that citizens elevate climate action to an issue at the ballot box. CDKN’s Africa team has tracked how public concern over climate change in Kenya has risen in recent years to become a voting issue.

Pippa Heylings, CDKN Latin America Director, recounted how Colombia is pursuing peace-building and reconstruction following years of civil war, while at the same time suffering economically from extreme weather events. The Colombian government is already considering how to make its new infrastructure investments more climate-resilient; it would benefit from a global policy framework that reinforces the need for climate resilience.

Where do the post-2015 negotiations go from here?

The inter-governmental Open Working Group (OWG) on the Sustainable Development Goals, which it charged with discussing the SDGs, both in content and form. The OWG concluded its deliberations with a report listing 17 goals with numerous supporting targets, and ‘means of implementation’ – which is everything from technological to financial means.

This initial list of SDGs was presented at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York in late September 2014. Once Ban Ki-moon has produced his Synthesis Report, UNGA will begin a formal process of inter-governmental negotiations, geared towards adopting a final set of SDGs by September 2015.

Currently Goal 13 directly deals with climate change, while consideration of climate change issues is included in other goals. However, many consider the current climate change-related goals and targets lack substance – they do not go far enough in encouraging action to address the impacts of climate change on developing countries or in including specific content on mitigation action.

Andrew Scott, Research Fellow at ODI, said “the post-2015 package is not finished, we are yet to see how it will change between now and its finalisation in September 2015… Although the Open Working Group report seems to embrace climate action on many levels, through its own standalone goal and various cross-cutting measures, upon scrutiny, there are some significant gaps… around climate-resilient water use and there are also no targets for climate change mitigation, where there could be.” Indeed, with calls for the number of goals to be reduced, there is also the risk that climate change could be lost as a goal altogether.

There is still time to influence the goals, targets and indicators of the SDGs. Melinda Bohannon, Team Leader and Policy Lead – Post 2015 Development Agenda at DFID said the UN Secretary General’s technical team will be looking to respond to the draft SDGs with recommendations in a synthesis document. There is an opportunity for civil society and development policy specialists to put forward their recommendations for targets (to underpin the overarching goals) and means of implementation.

What does the whole ‘pie’ look like?

Participants in the London event – as in the previous Colombia, Kenya and Indonesia consultations – agreed that climate change needs to be integrated throughout the SDGs, as it will impact so heavily on delivery of public health, incomes and livelihoods, and the natural environment. A colourful way of imagining this, said David Nussbaum, Director of WWF, is like a pizza. Each ‘slice of the pie’ needs economic, social, environmental ingredients. The reality of integrating climate change together with other social and environmental goals in economic development is complex, as Alison Doig of Christian Aid pointed out. Launching the joint NGO report The Right Climate for Development, Dr Doig described how the Government of India’s solar mission is proving surprisingly successful at boosting the uptake of solar power and increasing access to energy for the poor. However,  there are still challenges – India is also growing its coal-powered generation capacity at the same time.

A CDKN view on the future of the SDGs

As an outcome from the SDG discussion last month in New York , CDKN would like to see the stand alone goal for climate change strengthened, and better integration of climate change into the goals in key sectors.

As CDKN’s newly-launched Working Paper outlines, if a climate-change-ready set of SDGs are subsequently approved by the UN in September 2015, it will take further measures to ensure these translate into climate compatible development at the country level. As Carl Wesselink reminded us: while getting the indicators and measurement frameworks right is crucial, accountability and governance mechanisms must underpin implementation.

Download the CDKN Working Paper: The Sustainable Development Goals: Will they deliver climate compatible development for vulnerable countries?


Image: Colombia, Courtesy Agencia Prensa Rural, flickr


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