Why achieving the SDGs means climate action

The world has just received a new and more comprehensive development framework for 2030 that integrates the environmental dimension of development and at the same time makes the term “developed countries” obsolete, in a sense. The Sustainable Development Goals outline quite a to-do list for all countries, for instance, in terms of resource efficiency, waste management, sustainable settlements or ecosystem protection. The challenge of climate change is prominently placed as a separate Goal 13, though acknowledging the UNFCCC as the primary forum. As highlighted by experts, several other SDGs are linked to protecting the climate.

Most obviously, creating sustainable and inclusive energy systems (Goal 6) is essential to reducing GHG emissions to an extent that is sufficient for achieving the 2°-objective. Furthermore, the way the world responds to the rapid urbanization trends (Goal 11) will have a significant impact on climate: not only because cities are a major source of emissions, but also because they offer great potential for climate action, for mobilization and innovation. Sustainable agriculture (Goal 2) is needed to ensure long-term food security, but is also a key sector for climate protection. Creating resilience to climate change in all sectors including land use is a precondition to maintain past development gains and move forward.

These links also remind of issues that may not have been communicated as successfully as e.g. greening energy supply. Nitrogen excess in the environment is the first of “emerging issues” listed in the UNEP Yearbook 2014. This also constitutes one of the planetary boundaries that have already been crossed. Agriculture, industry, energy and transport are the sectors to tackle (very much so in Germany, among others), which would simultaneously be good news for coastal zones, freshwater supply, human health, agricultural productivity, and the climate. On the other hand, smart integrated measures in agriculture or transport can help confront other sustainable development challenges.

These multiple interlinkages point towards the comprehensive transformation economies and societies must undergo in order to develop within the physical capacities the earth provides. In economic terms, there are well-researched, prominently-backed encouraging signals: the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate described with precision how the (infrastructure) investments during the next 15 years can mitigate climate change and boost economies. For this to happen, political commitment – to be promoted domestically and internationally – is crucial. Siloed government administrations will not be able to guide the transformation pathway, as has been recognised for some two decades now. International coordination and dialogue in various multilateral and bilateral fora can contribute substantially to the achievement of SDGs, as “2015 is the Time for Global Action”.