Climate change wins precarious slot in proposed development goals

by Megan Rowling | @meganrowling | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 22 July 2014 13:00 GMT

Labourers plant saplings in a paddy field on the outskirts of the eastern Indian city of Bhubaneswar on July 19, 2014. REUTERS/Stringer

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Experts say goal is weak and shies away from emissions reduction targets

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Proposed new global development goals, drafted by a U.N. working group, include a goal to take urgent action on climate change, despite opposition from some countries - even though the goal is weaker than many campaigners would like.

How the “post-2015 development agenda” – which will follow the expiring Millennium Development Goals – should approach climate change has been a thorny issue for the past 18 months, not least because the world is simultaneously trying to hammer out a new deal to curb greenhouse gas emissions by the end of next year.

Some governments, including the fast-developing economies of Brazil and India, have insisted the development goals should not interfere with U.N. climate talks.

But Bernadette Fischler, co-chair of Beyond2015 UK, a civil society movement, said there was a "noticeable increase" in the number of countries supporting a goal on climate change at the final round of the working group's talks in New York last week. Countries coming on board included South Korea, Egypt and small island developing states.

"I am quite surprised it is still in there," she said of the climate goal. "It's good because climate change is a defining issue for development - if you want to eradicate poverty and follow sustainable development, unless you appropriately address climate change, you can't achieve either."

At the same time, there were many countries that did not want climate change to be one of the 17 proposed goals, and it remains among several "unresolved issues", Fischler said. These issues are likely to be the subject of heated debate after the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are presented to U.N. member states in September for a year of negotiations. Some, including that on climate change, may not survive.

The proposed climate change goal is also controversial because of what it does not contain - any mention of targets for global limiting temperature rise or reducing greenhouse gas emissions.


Fischler described it as the "vaguest, the weakest and the weirdest" of the goals, noting the low number of targets and numbers attached. She called for it to be strengthened.

In its current form, the goal focuses on boosting resilience to climate-related hazards and natural disasters, integrating climate change measures into national policy and planning, raising people's awareness and ability to mitigate and adapt to climate change, and delivering on an international commitment to mobilise $100 billion a year by 2020 to help poorer countries cope with climate impacts and develop cleanly.

It also takes care to note that the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is "the primary international, intergovernmental forum for negotiating the global response to climate change".

"It's disappointing that we've not found it possible to talk about emissions reductions in any place (in the proposed SDGs)," said Tom Mitchell, head of climate and environment for the London-based Overseas Development Institute. "If we don't do that, what does it mean for the legitimacy of the overall (development) framework?"

It is unclear what influence the goals proposed at the weekend will have on the final outcome of the new development framework that will replace the current Millennium Development Goals, which expire next year, he added. Governments will want to simplify the 17 potential SDGs, and if they look for goals to strike out, climate change could be sacrificed because the politics are "very tricky", Mitchell warned.

Fischler said any attempt to remove the climate change goal in favour of integrating it into the other goals would not leave enough substance to make development "climate-smart".


There are other proposed goals that address climate-related issues, including ensuring access to "affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy" for all, and protecting and promoting sustainable use of ecosystems and forests.

There are also goals on ensuring sustainable consumption and production, and making cities and human settlements "inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable." That goal has targets on protecting people from disasters, and increasing the number of cities adapting to climate change and reducing their climate-changing emissions.

Mitchell said he was comfortable with the treatment given to disaster risk reduction in the proposed new goals. He noted that the first goal on ending poverty includes a target to reduce the exposure and vulnerability of the poor to climate-related extreme events and other economic, social and environmental shocks and disasters.

Governments had not supported a separate goal on disaster risk reduction largely because it is about "risk management across other areas", Mitchell said.

Climate Action Network International, a coalition of more than 900 non-governmental organisations campaigning on climate change around the world, said the outcome document of the U.N. working group was "an important step forward towards a fairer, safer and cleaner world".

It has lobbied fiercely for a separate goal on climate change, and vowed to keep working hard over the next 15 months "to ensure the climate and energy goals can be as strong as they can be to improve the lives of people in poverty around the world and eventually eradicate poverty altogether".

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