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The 'clock is ticking' on climate and development goals, researcher warn

by Priya Dadlani | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 17 March 2016 13:32 GMT

Delays in climate action will make it harder to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, scientists say

LONDON, March 17 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – If the world continues to postpone taking ambitious action on climate change and doesn’t take advantage of a wide range of technologies to reduce emissions, the new Sustainable Development Goals will be much harder to achieve, a Berlin-based research institute says.

For example, more extreme weather associated with climate change – particularly drought and hotter temperatures – could cut harvests, boosting hunger and poverty even as countries aim to eliminate those problems as part of the new goals, said Jan Minx, head of applied sustainability science at the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change.

“The clock is ticking, and the longer the world delays implementing an ambitious climate policy, the more difficult it will be to reach many other sustainable development goals,” Minx said.

The Sustainable Development Goals, adopted by 193 countries and intended to be reached by 2030, aim to bring about ambitious changes, including reducing inequality, giving everyone in the world access to modern energy, achieving gender equality and ensuring quality education for all.

One goal calls specifically for the world to “take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.” A new global agreement for action on climate change, agreed in Paris in December, similarly seeks to limit climate change and hold global temperature increases to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times.

Researchers said whether many of the Sustainable Development Goals are achieved may depend not just on how long it takes to deal effectively with climate change but also what technologies are used to deal with it.

For example, relying too heavily on curbing climate change by capturing and storing carbon emissions underground – a still-emerging technology – could be risky, the report warns. It notes that increasing energy efficiency is probably a surer way of achieving both climate and development goals.

However, Minx explained, completely eliminating riskier technologies such as carbon capture and storage also could be a mistake and potentially could keep the world from reaching its climate and development goals. Countries need to look at the available strategies to deal with climate change through a risk management perspective, he said.

“From such a risk perspective, not delaying (implementation of) climate policies and aggressive energy demand reductions are the big ‘risk savers’. This gives us more flexibility to apply energy production technologies, like solar and wind, that are perceived ‘safer,’” said Minx.

By looking at possible scenarios for curbing climate change and reanalyzing them from a sustainable development perspective, “we found that the way we achieve (climate goals) really matters,” Minx said.

The institute’s researchers confirmed that countries’ short-term plans to address climate change are not yet ambitious enough to guarantee that the global mean temperature rise will stay below the international goal of 2 degrees Celsius.

“The global emission trajectory that we are currently following with the current (short-term plans) already locks in a series of risks compared to mitigation pathways that are more ambitious in the short term,” Minx said.

“Paris was a big achievement, but what we all know is the remaining (carbon) budget to meet that goal is very tight. It’s quite clear that we now need to follow up on Paris and increase our short-term ambition,” he said.

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