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OPINION: After New York – What next for the Sustainable Development Goals and climate change?


Helen Picot of CDKN’s Negotiations Support team takes stock after the UN Climate Summit.

At the end of September the world’s gaze was on New York, where the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon invited world leaders, businesses and civil society to bring bold pledges on climate change action. This was immediately followed by the 69th Session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) – where officials met to discuss the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are set to replace the Millennium Development Goals in 2015.

With 60,000 people at the Global Citizen Festival in Central Park, calling for an end to extreme poverty by 2030, just days after over 400,000 made headlines by marching through the streets of NYC at the People’s Climate March, it is clear that both these issues are close to civil society’s heart as well as being increasingly on the minds of world leaders.

2015 is recognised as the being the defining year for international climate negotiations. When the Secretary-General publishes his Synthesis Report on this year’s UNGA (expected to be at the end of November), he will officially launch the start of an inter-governmental process to finalise the SDGs. As a vocal champion of the climate agenda, we expect the Secretary-General will have the close links between the climate and sustainable development agendas front of mind. While the 17 draft SDGs currently include a climate change goal (Goal 13), some parties, for example the UK, are arguing to reduce this number. If there is to be a slimming down process, we face the risk that the climate goal will be among those lost.

Poverty cannot be tackled without tackling climate change– a fact increasingly obvious as natural disasters become more frequent and severe, with the poorest countries also the most vulnerable to climate impacts. Meanwhile, climate change cannot be tackled without development gains – interim crises will always take precedence unless the two are tackled together. Zero poverty and zero emissions must be the end goal, and the path to achieving both is climate compatible development.

The following issues act as sticking points in both fora, threatening to monopolise the debate:

  • Should ‘common but differentiated responsibility and respective capabilities’ (CBDR+RC) be a principle of the SDGs? A well-established principle of environmental law, the G-77 group of developing countries plus China, has called for CBDR+RC to be an overarching principle of the next phase of sustainable development. Developed countries reject this, saying that it can only apply to environmental protection, not economic and social development. However, the latest discussions in Bonn considered ways to move beyond the binary of Annex-I (industrialised and economies in transition) and non-Annex I (developing) countries. Perhaps we can also expect to see a shift in both the SDG and UNFCCC fora, from strict interpretation of CBDR towards a softer approach which takes into account ‘national circumstances’.
  • Financing is a key cross-cutting issue. Concerns are already being raised about the intersections – and potential clashes – between the nascent climate finance regime under the UNFCCC, including the Green Climate Fund (GCF), and the financing required to deliver on the SDGs. With a large gap between current pledges on the table and US$100bn/year by 2020 goal committed to the GCF, will donor nations find room in their pockets for support to developing countries on the SDGs, especially climate aspects of the SDGs? If the post-2015 development finance mirrors the GCF stipulation that contributions should be ‘new and additional’ to existing ODA, that would seem to preclude the two finance regimes overlapping. There are plenty of questions but no answers for now, and no doubt we should look out for some discussion of this in the Financing for Development Conference in Addis Ababa in July next year.

Find out more – take a look CDKN’s blog on our event linking climate change and the SDGs and check out our paper The Sustainable Development Goals: Will they deliver climate compatible development for vulnerable countries?

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