The year of 2015 will be a year with long term outcomes: it has to produce impacts that will last until 2030. That is what representatives of UN agencies, heads of state and ministers , civil society organisations and the private sector are proposing, as during the course of 2015 a new agenda and key issues for development practice were extensively discussed and accepted by the member states of the UN with the announcement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
By the end of this year, we will have had three major international conferences, in three different moments and continents. In July, the Third Financing for Development conference in Addis Ababa proposed to discuss how to promote more effective finance strategies, and offered an economic framework to support the new sustainable development agenda. A few months later, in September, the world’s eyes turned to New York to the 70th General Assembly, which was the culmination of an approximately two year process and detailed intergovernmental negotiations to decide on the 2030 agenda and SDGs. Framing this agenda has been the most participatory process in the history of the UN, and it resulted in the announcement of the Sustainable Development Goals, with its daring 17 goals and 169 targets. Lastly, in a days’ time, Paris will host the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP) of the United Nations Framework Convention of Climate Change (UNFCCC), where a new international agreement on climate change must be announced.
While each conference prioritises certain dimensions of the post 2015 development agenda, they are nonetheless connected, and understanding this overlap and interconnectedness will be fundamental to how we pursue the implementation of the new agenda together with its challenges. They are all concerned with the same problems of overcoming extreme poverty, of promoting inclusiveness, and they all must consider not only the planet’s natural limitations of providing resources for extraction and absorbing gases emissions, but also how such features are distributed among the richer and the poorest. In order to do so, there must be a deep questioning on which are the flaws and how to transform the current economic development model, as well as who is going tp pay for these changes to happen, and on how these global agreements will translate into change for marginalized who are not represented in these meetings.
Climate change negotiations in the past years have been riddled with criticism for not moving fast enough, for not containing clear binding agreements for all countries, and for lack of accountability mechanisms, amongst others. However as the Paris COP approaches, political momentum is mounting for an agreement that can be applauded by governments, private sector and citizens groups alike. Considerable advances have been made on the latest climate agreement to be tabled in Paris making it more balanced, fairer, and more likely to garner the support needed for success.
Since the climate conference in Copenhagen in 2009, campaigners have pressured countries to follow on their commitments to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius. Nonetheless, adjustments must be done in terms of both mitigation and adaptation strategies so that it is possible to stay below this temperature. And so a key issue still pending and that concerns most of the developing countries is the controversy of who is going to pay the bill to make the necessary changes.
Developing countries call for the responsibility of developed countries not only to commit to the $100 billion pledge in climate finance until 2020 and scaling up of post-2020 finance, but also for a clearer proposal on how this will be done. At this point, there must be a strong plan of how this disbursement will happen, and who will benefit.
Concerns around climate finance were, of course, also a central issue in the Financing for Development conference in Addis Ababa, where NGOs and developing country governments highlighted the issue of additionality of resources that need to come over and above existing commitments to ODA. Climate change is an urgent matter that admittedly requires financing. Nonetheless, climate resources cannot eat into the financing of longstanding development challenges such as poverty, health, education and basic infrastructure that are deeply intertwined with issues of vulnerability and resilience and ultimately climate change.
These issues and the additional urgency of tackling trends of increasing inequality, featured front and centre at the UN General Assembly this year where the momentous decision on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) was sealed with the endorsement of Member States. The SDGs promote a wide and transformative agenda involving several development issues and their interconnections. With the right combination of policies, budgets and participatory accountability mechanisms, these goals could have far-reaching outcomes particularly for poor and marginalised groups. The constraints imposed by climate change are a central part of the SDG agenda, given that efforts to promote development can be held back or even undermined in the long term by extreme weather events that erode people’s livelihoods and safety. The World Bank warns that not only are poor people more affected by natural disasters than wealthier people, but also that without proper climate-informed development, by 2030 climate change could lead 100 million more people into extreme poverty.
Therefore, even though the two previous international conferences this year succeeded into showing what the problems are and how they can be tackled, a sense of urgency is still missing when looking at countries’ commitments and actions in relation to changing development strategies. Additionally, climate change catalyses the problems of inaction. Climate action can no longer be delayed. Its impacts are already being felt, and the longer it takes to considerable action to happen, the worse the impacts will be. More importantly, such events are even more common in more vulnerable regions, such as Southeast Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.
It was not a twist of fate that all of these meetings are taking place in 2015. We should seize the opportunity afforded by this to make the connections, see the overlap and act on them with coherent strategies that do not undermine one another, and ensure benefits and achievements for those who suffer the most from the lack of agreement and action. So far, the two major conferences on development this year asked the correct questions on sustainable development: how to make development inclusive, end poverty and reduce inequalities bearing in mind the environmental concerns and how to raise the necessary resources to do so. Now, with the COP21, the development community needs to start providing answers and putting them into practice, starting from the day the conference finishes.
Over the next weeks, the RIO+ Centre, UNDP’s World Centre for Sustainable Development, will produce a series of blogs to discuss topics that are relevant to the debate on sustainable development and that are also being raised in Paris for the COP21. We believe that it is important to identify what are the main issues of convergence, and which are potential challenges that the intended outcomes of such conferences will face in promoting more integrated and long term sustainable development.
To learn more about the negotiations, and to subscribe for news on the climate talks, check the Climate Action Network (CAN) newsletter, Carbon Brief and the TreeAlerts. And if you’re in the mood for some action, find the climate march closest to you on November 29th and demand action from your government!
Caption: World Leaders at the People’s Climate March held in New York City. UN Photo: Mark Garten