There is more at risk than the climate

The COP 21 process marks a moment of great hope, inspiration and ambition for the world as a whole. Taking place in a new era of sustainable development engagement and effort, a new climate agreement in Paris in 2015 is pivotal to the achievement of the related Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

There is little doubt that miss-management of natural resources is reaching alarming levels, followed by drastic changes in the ecosystem’s capacity to provide goods and services for society and the planet. Climate change is one clear example of this.

In this context, issues of Forest, Food and Agriculture (FFA) (SDGs #15 and #2, as well as #13 on climate change) cannot go un-recognized or un-prioritized. The UNDP World Centre for Sustainable Development (RIO+ Centre) is already taking this Agenda forward, most recently in the context of agrarian development and, previously, in the context of gender and climate-smart agriculture (see postcard below).

CSA postcardThese efforts underscore that while limiting the effects and scale of human-induced climate change is fundamental so is addressing land rights, food security and agrarian reform – the governance structures that shape how we use forests and land for food, agriculture and other services.

Climate-related risk works with these and other factors to threaten development and equity gains across the world, in developed and developing countries alike. Some key FFA issues are:

  • In providing for both people and planet, forests serve multiple and symbiotic roles: a generator of income, an enabler for agriculture, a pharmacy for some of the words poorest and richest, a storehouse of biodiversity , a carbon sink and a buffer;
  • Human well-being and sustainable livelihoods are intricately tied to land availability and quality: for income, status, housing, credit and food. Nearly 800 million people are chronically under-nourished[1];
  • Living in a rural area, being a poor woman and belonging to an indigenous group are key determinants of limited opportunities. For adaptation and mitigation to be sustainable, these factors can no longer be ignored;
  • Addressing the direct drivers of unsustainable forest management, as well as the underlying ones including property rights (local and global), demands a fair balance between short-term and long-term priorities;
  • Large-scale structural shifts such as urbanization, population growth, natural resource extraction, amongst others, intensify the pressures on existing land resources, making the impact of climate change even more devastating.

It is clear from the draft text, available on December 5th, that calls for recognition of some of the above and for a more convergent and coherent agenda have been heard. A commitment to carbon and non-carbon benefits from climate action[2] is implied; it could still go further. A focus on equity and intergenerational equity is welcomed, but more on benefit and risk-sharing is needed. So too is a clear and unmistakable statement on the intersections between climate response and sustainable development.

The SDG framework provides a clear opportunity to make good on several implied promises of the proposed climate agreement and for achieving a heightened level of symbiosis. Meeting the SDG commitments will require more than a new climate deal alone can likely offer. It will also require support and enabling structures and governance frameworks from other elements of development policy.

Social Protection for Sustainable Development (SP4SD) might be one such enabler and means of implementation for an ambitious climate agreement that can hopefully keep us from a 2ºC tipping point. SP4SD’s potential lies in social protection’s capacity to (I) serve as a bridge between social and environmental policy, (ii) to mitigate against the social development tradeoffs inevitable from climate and green policy and (iii) to bridge humanitarian response and long-term development. Read more on this in the RIO+ Centre’s first thematic report, coming online in early 2016.

By taking a progressive stance on this now, the Convention potentially places itself on the frontier of practical action for achieving sustainability the world over, particularly for food and land sustainability.

As those in Paris enter into an intense period of negotiation, we urge them therefore to keep more than the climate in mind.

The negotiations are as much about limitations as they are opportunities, as much about people as they are the planet. Taking a broad view is the only way to maximize and multiply impacts every time an action is taken for the climate and every time an action is taken for poverty reduction or food security.


Image: No-Line/FANRPAN

[1] http://www.fao.org/publications/sofi/2014/en/

[2] https://unfccc.int/files/bodies/awg/application/pdf/draft_paris_agreement_5dec15.pdf

One Comment on “There is more at risk than the climate

  1. Pingback: There is more at risk than the climate | Comunicação Ambiente Sustentabilidade

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