Climate change success key to achieving SDGs

 Jeffrey Gogo Climate Story
With action on climate change failing, there is little compelling evidence to believe the outcome from the Sustainable Development Goals will be any much different from those of the Millennium Development Goals. In other words, to achieve the SDGs, the world needs to get its climate change priorities right, first.AS world leaders last week gathered at the UN headquarters in New York to agree to a new global development path for the next 15 years, it has become clearer just how low emissions growth is necessary not only to tackling climate change, but also achieving the world’s development targets.

The UN was on Friday (September 25) due to adopt an international action plan to end poverty by 2030. The plan, known as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), will replace the failed Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that expire this year. The SDGs outline 17 specific goals and 169 targets covering climate change, poverty, inequality, sustainable development and others.

Unlike the MDGs that were targeted at developing countries, the Sustainable Development Goals will be implemented in every UN member state, rich or poor, bringing a veneer of hope for success. Acceptable global indicators to review and monitor implementation will be concluded by end of the 2016 first quarter.

However, the key question is: can the SDGs deliver where the MDGs before them have failed, particularly on climate change and its sidekick, poverty? Extreme climate events such as flashing flooding or droughts, common occurrences across Zimbabwe in the last 35 years, could scupper the Sustainable Development Goals poverty eradication targets.

A new report published by the London-based Overseas Development Institute last Thursday shows that without radical climate action, some 720 million people worldwide risked falling into extreme poverty. “The achievement of global zero net emissions require action by countries across all levels of development and is compatible with poverty eradication,” said the report in reference to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s zero emissions target by 2100.

Zero net emissions refer to a complete stop in the production of climate-warming greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane. Research has also shown that deeper emission cuts by 2030 will boost economic growth in poor countries by up to 3,9 percent, helping to cut poverty and hunger.

But global emissions are unlikely to peak by 2030 as is desirable and compatible with the 2 degrees Celsius temperature rise cap while the zero net emissions goal by end of the 21st Century remains a pipe dream. Now, that’s what makes the Paris climate conference in December, where a new international climate agreement is due to be sealed, crucial.

Any action which does not yield deep emission cuts, as much as 40 percent by 2017 and 95 percent by 2050 as demanded by Africa, the world’s most vulnerable continent and yet the least emitter, will be unacceptable. The policies of big emitting industrialised countries would be in discord if they supported an end to poverty without corresponding equitable action towards achieving zero net emissions in their own economies, said the Overseas Development Institute.

However, as measured by the mitigation plans submitted to the UN so far by the US, the European Union, China, Australia, Russia and Canada, which account for over 75 percent of global emissions combined, the world is on course for an unsustainable above 2 degrees Celsius warming.

There is just not enough ambition and political will at the global stage to avoid the dangerous impacts of climate change on the world’s poor. With action on climate change failing, there is little compelling evidence to believe the outcome from the Sustainable Development Goals will be any much different from those of the Millennium Development Goals.

In other words, to achieve the SDGs, the world needs to get its climate change priorities right, first.

Funding Quagmire
Whereas the MDGs were grossly vague on climate change, the SDGs are not. The Sustainable Development Goals address specific climate change problems such as the need to cut greenhouse gases emissions to achieve development that is both real and sustainable.

But funding and the emerging sources for financing UN programmes are increasingly becoming a cause for concern. To deliver the Sustainable Development Goals, the UN, already hamstrung by an overflow of global challenges in the face of declining member states financial support, is aiming to mobilise private capital to boost its annual $40 billion expenditure.

Experts are unimpressed, warning the UN was embarking on a dangerous era of “selective multilateralism, shaped by intergovernmental policy impasses and a growing reliance on corporate-led solutions to global problems,” according to a study by the Global Policy Forum, an international think tank.

“While this (UN budget) may seem to be a substantial sum, in reality it is smaller than the budget of New York City, less than a quarter of the budget of the European Union, and only 2,3 per cent of the world’s military expenditures,” said Jens Martens, co-author of the study.

“As the World Bank calls on the global community to move from ‘Billions’ to ‘Trillions’ to meet the investment needs of the Sustainable Development Goals, the United Nations still has to calculate in terms of “Millions’.” John Wilson, an agro-ecologist from Harare, said with private funding, the United Nations system, as a big part of the public sector, risked compromising its democratic governance structures as well as losing public support

This will be harmful for research in agro-ecology, which depends on public sector finance, he said. Agro-ecology embodies techniques in farming that are natural and sustainable, making it essential to protecting soil fertility and boosting food production at a time of climate change-induced scarcities.

“It is rather disturbing that the supposedly independent UN institutions are now coming more and more under the influence of the private sector, especially when that private sector is concentrating its corporate interests into fewer bodies that cannot really be described as ‘free market,’” Wilson said on the online platform, FoodMattersZimbabwe.

“Badly needed research support to the development of agro-ecology has to come from the public sector, as by and large there are no products for sale at the end of the research and so the corporates will not be interested in this research.”

God is faithful.