New York, 25 September 2015. There is no denying the fundamental and inextricable link between climate change and development. The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report (IPCC AR5) sends a clear message: we are all affected by the impacts of climate change, but it is the poor and vulnerable people, communities and countries that suffer disproportionately. They will – and already do – feel the environmental and socio-economic effects most acutely, making climate change a great injustice. Indeed, during the recent UN Climate Summit, leaders from vulnerable countries, such as Bangladesh, Tuvalu and the Marshall Islands, reminded us of the fundamental consequences they are already experiencing.
The Summit was an historic moment, with 120 Heads of State, 400,000 citizens taking to the streets, sector-leading commitments from corporate CEOs, and inspiring leadership from cities and the faith community. World leaders were meant to start matching those commitments. For the most part, we’re still waiting for governments to urgently ratchet up their ambition at the scale needed to keep global warming to 2 or even better 1.5 degrees and to commit sufficient funding for adaptation.
On the day after the Summit, Heads of States returned to the UN Headquarters to deliver speeches at the opening of the UN General Assembly on the topic of post-2015 development. This agenda aims to deliver poverty eradication and sustainable development by endorsing Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). At their core, the SDGs provide an opportunity to promote climate-proof and inclusive low-carbon development.
At these back-to-back events, government leaders, reaffirmed their general agreement that climate change is a fundamental threat to poverty eradication and needs urgent action across all sectors. But it remains to be seen if this rhetorical consensus will be translated into ambitious action when many of the same leaders meet again at the end of 2015 to complete a climate treaty and finalize the Sustainable Development Goals. For now, the two negotiation processes will continue to unfold in parallel.
Recent negotiations on the SDGs and parallel discussions within the UNFCCC have revealed that governments often view the relationship between the two with caution – and, even, skepticism. That is what has prompted us – environment and development organisations, working in both these negotiation streams – to come together to call for greater cohesion between the two processes. We are convinced that if we are to build ambition for integrated action much stronger cooperation is urgently needed between these two negotiating processes.
Our experiences of how policy is implemented on the ground confirm this. Approaching such fundamental issues in silos is unlikely to solve many of the problems we’re seeking to address. For example, WWF’s support for small-scale fishers on the south-eastern coast of Tanzania has enabled them to set up community-based fishing organisations. The result is a new system of shared management between communities and government that gives local women and men the power to make decisions about the things that matter most to them: securing nutritious food, protecting their livelihoods and preserving their local environment.
Economic analyses undertaken on CARE’s behalf in a project in Garissa, northern Kenya, also show that investments in community-based adaptation can generate multi-faceted and interconnected environmental, economic and social benefits that outweigh the costs of the intervention. This helps vulnerable women and men to secure their livelihoods.
At the multilateral level, we should be looking for synergies between the two processes in areas where climate and development issues are inter-related. For example, the already existing (and admittedly elaborate) architecture under the UNFCCC, including planning and reporting and the provision of financial support, can assist in implementing and monitoring any climate-related goals and targets in the SDGs. Conversely, the SDGs which are meant to be implemented between 2016 and 2030 can undoubtedly contribute to more action on mitigation, adaptation and resilience pre- and post-2020.
The benefits of such a holistic approach would play out in low-carbon, climate-resilient and inclusive development pathways across all sectors. The result could be sustainable energy for all, food and nutrition security in a transformed food systems, sustainable cities and transport, and improved ecosystem management that allows equitable sharing of environmental goods and services. In contrast, ignoring the interlinkages between climate action, sustainable development and poverty reduction risks a global climate effort that doesn’t help the poor or the realisation of their rights, and a development effort that’s not climate-safe. And without an integrated approach, sooner or later the processes may result in unnecessary competition for the same ‘pots’ of money.
Next year, 2015, also provides a chance to prove that global negotiations can deliver for the poorest, and for us all. An ambitious agreement on the SDGs would set the tone for a legally binding climate deal a few weeks later; and it would show that the politics between different countries can align. In order to exploit this potential, the crucial first step will be to clarify exactly how the climate change goal and targets in the voluntary SDGs will relate to the binding UNFCCC framework. That’s another key reason why the relationship between the two processes must be addressed constructively.
We know this won’t be easy. It will require focused coordination by those leading the processes. And an openness to engage in dialogue from all sides – environment, climate and development – at all levels: from the UN to ministries in capitals, funders, NGOs and pressure groups. It must be driven by a will to achieve stronger and more ambitious agreements in both processes which rise to the true challenge of sustainable and inclusive development.
Between now and the end of 2015, our governments have the chance to get it right, and we urge them to do so. By focusing on the benefits and facing the pitfalls head-on, we can ensure the alignment and effectiveness of limited resources and catalyst the political will to deliver truly equitable and sustainable development.