Climate change must be part of new global development goals

by Sven Harmeling | CARE International
Monday, 16 June 2014 15:49 GMT

A man looks at the site of houses destroyed by a landslide in Mae Luiza after a record amount of rain fall in 48 hours, near Natal, Brazil, June 15, 2014. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The post-2015 framework will fail altogether if it ignores the necessary paradigm shift to low-emission, climate-resilient development

In June last year, CARE and AlertNet Climate hosted an online debate to explore how the post-2015 development goals could help drive action on climate change.

Since then, a lot has happened. The U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its Fifth Assessment Report, which showed more clearly than ever that climate impacts are unfolding around the world, adversely affecting developing countries and poor people’s livelihoods.

Alarmingly, it also underlined the scale and pace of action now required if we are to avoid dangerous climate change. As the world approaches a critical junction for climate action - the next global climate change deal is due to be agreed next year in Paris - the pressure is on.

At the same time, the post-2015 development framework, which includes a new set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to replace the expiring Millennium Development Goals, is also reaching a critical milestone. It is being negotiated by the so-called “Open Working Group” (OWG) of governments, which meets this week in New York to begin its penultimate session before submitting its recommendations to the U.N. Secretary General for consideration by the U.N. General Assembly (UNGA) in September.

As it stands, the proposal prepared by the OWG co-chairs contains 17 goals covering the key areas of poverty eradication and sustainable development, along with associated targets. But it’s still far from being adopted. The UNGA is likely to refine the key targets and whittle the number of goals down further.

As advocates for massively enhanced climate action – and robust, sustainable development goals – what should we be looking out for, given that the discussions about climate change have so far been among the most controversial?

In OWG sessions to date, key sticking points include whether climate change should have a standalone goal or be included in the framework as a cross-cutting issue, and whether a UNGA agreement on specific climate targets would adversely affect, or prejudice, the climate deal due to be agreed in Paris in 2015.

For an organisation like CARE, working to end global poverty, the answer is clear-cut. Climate change has such substantial implications for poverty eradication and sustainable development that there is no doubt the post-2015 development framework will fail altogether if the necessary paradigm shift towards low-emission and climate-resilient development is ignored.

It’s a view that is gaining support across civil society. Since last week 178 organisations have signed a letter to the co-chairs of the OWG calling for a framework that “addresses climate change in a manner that recognises the urgency and importance of dealing with the most fundamental challenge of our time”.

It sounds like a big ask - so what exactly does civil society want the OWG to do?

1. Ensure the climate threat is recognised by agreeing to a dedicated, ambitious standalone goal

In the current ‘zero’ draft of the post-2015 framework, climate change is allocated a standalone goal. Yet this is at risk of being abandoned due to perceived ‘lack of agreement’, despite support from a number of countries. Recently, many developing countries, including the least developed nations, Pacific island states and southern African countries, have called for a standalone goal on climate change. The 170 signatories to the civil society letter also back this demand. Submissions made in the development of the zero draft from broader NGO networks like the Beyond 2015 alliance call for a strong climate change goal too. So, there is support – and it’s growing.

2. Integrate climate change into the sustainable development goals in an effective, coherent manner

Since climate change makes efforts to reduce poverty particularly difficult by undermining food security and water availability, it is important that it is effectively integrated into the other sustainable development goals. And, where the impacts of climate change ultimately threaten the delivery of a goal altogether, adaptation and resilience-building need to be considered too. While the zero draft does integrate resilience into goals related to poverty eradication, it is weak with regard to greening economic growth and industrialisation. For example, all references to ‘emissions’ have recently been deleted.

3. Ambitious climate action must be guided by the needs of the most vulnerable

The post-2015 development framework must be ambitious in its aims and reflect the urgency of the climate problem if it is to be successful in delivering sustainable development for the world’s poorest people. Importantly, the targets outlined in the zero draft contain strengthened focus on the needs of vulnerable populations. But, we’re not there yet.

In line with the demands of some of the most vulnerable countries, the standalone climate goal must also provide a clear steer on emissions reductions – ensuring that governments take adequate action to limit global warming to below 1.5 degrees Celsius. This can also be facilitated through greater ambition in other goals, such as the expansion of renewable energies or the phasing-out of fossil fuel subsidies.

A big question mark still remains about the so-called “means of implementation” – the financial support, capacity building and technology that will be needed to deliver on the new goals. These issues are dealt with through a separate, far less transparent negotiation process.

There are already some suggestions – the G77 and China have prepared a submission for the upcoming session outlining their views on implementation and climate change among other things. Of course, the process must not affect existing commitments to provide climate finance, which need to be delivered without undermining support for poverty eradication, and scaled up as the needs of the most vulnerable grow.

Here at CARE, we believe that the U.N. climate talks remain the key forum for agreeing ambitious climate action, including the delivery of a new and comprehensive global climate deal in 2015. We want to see clear commitments from governments, in particular developed countries, to reduce emissions and help the poorest adapt, based on the principles of common but differentiated responsibilities.

However, the steps needed to agree a new climate deal must not be used as an excuse to deny climate change the attention it requires in the SDGs.

Governments cannot deliver sustainable development without tackling climate change, and they cannot tackle climate change without addressing the root causes of poverty. That includes real action on the underlying causes of vulnerability, with a focus on gender inequalities.

Above all, what’s needed is an integrated approach – which is what we will be calling for, time and again, between now and 2015.