Connecting the dots: the Climate Summit and Sustainable Development Goals

Last week in New York City was quite an experience for those of us fortunate enough to be there:  300,000 plus marching for taking effective action to address climate change; national and sub-national governments and over 1,000 companies signing on to a well orchestrated effort by the World Bank to push for pricing carbon; announcements by investors to divest themselves of financing fossil fuel related activities; and, strong commitments by some countries to augment developing countries’  capacity to adapt to climate change impacts, to name a few.

Most media reports and blogs are declaring the Summit a success, with Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, stating that it represented a “ground shifting moment” in addressing climate change.

Lost in all the attention paid to global warming was the opening of the 69th session of the UN General Assembly, whose major order of business over the next year will be defining the post 2015 agenda for sustainable development.  IN ALL THE MANY COMMENTARIES PROVIDED ON THE CLIMATE SUMMIT, I HAVE YET TO FIND ONE THAT EXPLICITLY EXAMINED THE IMPLICATIONS OF CLIMATE COMMITMENTS ON THE WIDER SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT AGENDA.

It is as if the two processes are happy to progress in splendid isolation.   Yes, there is a cursory inclusion of climate change as one of 16 goals in the draft text on Sustainable Development Goals, essentially deferring to the UNFCCC as the relevant multilateral decision making body on global warming.  But scant attention has been paid to the ‘uncomfortable truth ‘that a number of other key SDGs related to economic growth and tackling poverty will be challenging (to put it mildly) to achieve with the radical greenhouse gas reductions required to avoid the earth warming beyond 2 °C.  SD goals.

I am not predetermining what the results of a real conversation about the links between SDGs and climate might look like.  Simply noting that, under existing development models and practices, economic growth, poverty eradication and expanding energy access will complicate the global climate picture would be a constructive start.  In that respect, I would commend the work of the Frederik S. Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer Range Future that examines the implications of each of the Sustainable Development Goals for actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Money is another issue: are we seriously contemplating a scenario next year when there will be decisions on providing global financing for climate change and sustainable development separately?

Part of the problem is institutional: climate change negotiations emanate out of Bonn, SDGs, New York.  Theoretically, the two should merge in the UN’s General Secretary’s office, but it has yet to effectively occur.  2015 is going to be a critical year for sustainable development: climate change needs to be an integral part of that and not continue to exist as a separate solitude.