Current pledges to cut carbon emissions are not enough to meet the UN target.

Photo: Mikael Miettinen/CC by 2.0

The Unsustainable Development Goals: why the SDGs won’t work without a climate deal

13 November 2015
Author: Dr Alison Doig

The success of securing a dedicated goal on climate change as one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals cannot be under stated, given many states’ resistance to its inclusion.

Goal 13 is not the strongest of the new goals: its targets lack clear definition, but its inclusion in the framework is a strong indication that climate change is now at the heart of the development and poverty reduction agenda.

Climate change puts the achievement of every other goal at risk. It is therefore vitally important that, across the full set of goals, there are clear markers to ensure that all development is low-carbon and resilient to climate change. Climate resilient agriculture, sustainable cities, low-carbon energy and limits on consumption are all key to a climate safe future.

Climate change puts the achievement of every other goal at risk.

The post-2015 development framework clearly references the outcome of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations in Paris, known as COP21, as setting the agenda for delivery of the new goals.

So what outcomes from Paris are critical to the achievement of the goals?

First, almost all countries are already on-board and committed to getting a good agreement. Early agreements between the USA and China for climate action has encouraged many others to come forwards; already about 150 countries have submitted their nationally determined commitments (INDCs) for climate action up to 2025 or 2030.

Unfortunately, if you add up all the INDC pledges to cut carbon emissions, they are not enough to meet the agreed UN target of staying below 2°C of global warming, and well over the 1.5°C of warming which will threaten the most vulnerable countries. In fact, the UNFCCC ‘s own assessment shows the current pledges will add up to warming of 2.7°C this century. And the large wealthy countries are pledging well below their fair share of emissions reductions.

Therefore, there is a need for a mechanism in the Paris agreement to review and ratchet-up INDCs every 5 years, and to keep the 2°C in sight.

But Paris is not just about carbon emissions. Vulnerable developing countries are demanding that climate adaptation and resilience get parity of attention in Paris, and that there is a strong commitment behind a mechanism for addressing "loss and damage" – the point when climate impacts are irreparable.

Critical to this is securing the finance, technology transfer and capacity building necessary to deliver climate action. These issues will be central to the political negotiations in Paris, and key to delivering the goals in a climate safe context.

Finally, the urgency of climate action must not eclipse the basic fundamentals of human rights, equality and gender justice. The COP21 outcome document must be explicitly supportive of the principle of the SDGs by including language and commitments to equitable and sustainable development.

Six years ago at the Copenhagen Climate Conference (COP15) we went in hopeful and came away disappointed. We are approaching Paris with much more trepidation, but with a lot more of the political bargaining already taken care of. All parties are keen to see Paris as a spring board to further action, and a number of new partnerships are forming to deliver the outcomes. The newest partnership is the India-Africa Delhi Declaration 2015, which promotes innovation in south-south cooperation on mitigation.

At COP21 we need a final push to ensure that 2015 has been the year we set the world on the right sustainable development track.

Members of the Bond Development and Environment Group were central to the international lobby to get climate change recognised as a critical issue for sustainable development. If you’re a Bond member interested in climate change, visit the group on My Bond.

About the author

Alison Doig
Christian Aid

Alison is Principal Climate Change Advisor at Christian Aid. The focus of her work is on environmental justice and ensuring civil society views, particularly from developing countries, are heard in the global and regional political negotiations.