This week leaders from all over the world will be gathering in the city of New York to gavel through the latest agreement between states, civil society and business which creates 17 ‘Sustainable Development Goals’ (SDGs) with 169 targets for how to achieve those goals between 2016 and 2030.
These SDGs are an extension and improvement of the Millennium Development Goals, as they offer a much bigger picture of all the interlinked aspects of life on earth, as paragraph 13 of the draft ‘Agenda 2030’ text acknowledges:
- The challenges and commitments contained in these major conferences and summits are interrelated and call for integrated solutions. To address them effectively, a new approach is needed. Sustainable development recognizes that eradicating poverty in all its forms and dimensions, combatting inequality within and among countries, preserving the planet, creating sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth and fostering social inclusion are linked to each other and are interdependent.
Each goal tackles a different world development and sustainability issue, from extreme poverty, to climate change, to safe and resilient cities.
This year will see two goliath processes culminate in potentially life and earth changing agreements; the first being the SDGs, and the second, COP21 of the UN Climate Change Negotiations in Paris at the end of the year, where the next climate agreement to govern our future will be initiated.
These processes should not be seen as separate, they are both complementary and intertwined. We know that action on climate change to decarbonise the global economy and get developed countries to mitigate their emissions as fast as possible will not happen without huge political will or issues of fairness being addressed. As such, it is integral to the success of the climate change process, that it’s targets and requirements are fed in to the modes of development countries adopt and fund from now on. The reverse applies too: the SDGs will not achieve significant inroads into poverty alleviation, human rights, gender equality or good water management, if climate change is not addressed. Climate change is both one facet of sustainable development and also, increasingly controlling the entire enabling space that we need for sustainable development to be achieved on this planet.
This is why SDG Goal 13, “Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts” is improved by the addition of Goal 13.2 that requires countries to “Integrate climate change measures into national policies, strategies and planning.”.
This is no easy task. But it is one that is not entirely new to us. The World Bank’s 2015 report, ‘Decarbonizing Development: 3 steps to a zero-carbon future”, offers the latest meta-analysis of how we can tackle this paradigm shift collectively and at the national level. As the authors point out, decarbonizing the global economy immediately is feasible: if we wanted to we would just have to shut down the global economy and emissions would also stop. Except, this is not just about reducing emissions, this must be about decarbonizing development by continuing to lift people out of poverty, offer better standards of living and more sustainable and healthy livelihoods – but without the use of carbon.
To decarbonize to net zero by 2100 the World Bank report sets out three guiding principles:
- To achieve short and mid term goals and targets there needs to be a long-term goal to guide the big investment and infrastructure decisions.
- We cannot price our way out of emitting greenhouse gases, we have to implement a package of policies that trigger changes in investment patterns, technologies and behaviours.
- We must consciously steer and design policies that amount to a managed transition so that political economy needed to follow through on policy changes is maintained and strengthened – we must protect the most vulnerable and bring everyone with us, not leave them behind.
For the authors, these three principles frame the crux of the challenge to reach zero that the IPCC have said requires action in four key areas:
- decarbonising the production of electricity
- mass electrification
- improvements in efficiency and waste reduction in all sectors
- preserving and increasing natural carbon sinks.
They also emphasise the necessity of immediate action and investment in decarbonised development, as the costs will only rise the longer we delay the inevitable, which in turn affects political economy and long term planning capacity.
“The key to feasibility is affordability, and affordability requires early action.”
If we delay action to the 2030-50 period, rather than starting now, the cost of action will rise by an average of 50%, if we think action is expensive now, it will only get worse.
Track 0’s CEO, Farhana Yamin, has also just written a piece for the Huffington Post which reiterates that climate change is already here, and in order to tackle this global issues, all the institutions on earth must be taking climate actions and preparing to build a resilient future.
The agreement of all States to sign-on to and implement the SDGs, and a clear mandate to decarbonise the global economy from COP21 in Paris could genuinely usher in a new era of increasingly connected and well planned development solutions, which we need to help us transition to the resilient and healthy planet we all call home.