3 April 2019
Maintaining Momentum, Maximizing Benefits on Climate and SDGs
story highlights

Now is the time to up the game on climate action and on the delivery of all SDGs.

Easy-to-use tools that reveal connections and factor in trade-offs to enable policy makers and planners to understand interactions – an important first step towards coherent policies.

These tools can also be adapted to businesses that see work towards the SDGs as an opportunity.

The achievements of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and Paris Agreement on climate change must not lose momentum at this crucial stage of implementation. Now is the time to up the game on climate action and the delivery of all SDGs. But how can policy-makers turn these ambitious agendas into coherent policies? And what tools are available to practitioners so that policy becomes transformative change – in the form of investments, infrastructure and development capacities?

Part of the solution is to use a suite of tools that reveal connections between climate action and other SDGs, map interactions between all SDGs, and empower local planning capacities across a range of SDGs. All with the goal of maximizing climate and SDG synergies.

There’s a saying in German that captures the implementation challenge: Papier ist geduldig. This translates to, “paper is patient,” In other words, “you can write what you like on paper.” The Paris Agreement and the 2030 Agenda are there for all to see, reminding us of commitments and timetables. But the process of going from a Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) to climate action is no easy journey. A detailed look at the NDCs reveals that the vast majority of targets set out are not quantifiable. What’s more, NDCs are usually not connected to national policy plans on, for example, energy. The same largely goes for the SDGs.

This lack of connection has important implications for the coherence of policies. For example, if an NDC states that there will be increased electricity production from bioenergy, conflicts of interest will likely arise if at the same time, policies aim to increase agricultural outputs to improve food security.

Timing Matters

The IPCC Special Report on 1.5°C, released in October 2018, provides the scientific imperative for urgent and far-reaching climate action. The UN Environment Programme’s (UNEP) latest ‘Emissions Gap’ report shows that the climate action currently promised by countries is falling short of what is needed to deliver the Paris Agreement. As countries are set to submit more ambitious NDCs by 2020, now is a good time to reflect on how to scale up climate action, which is enshrined in the wider context of the 2030 Agenda as SDG 13.

It is also time to take stock of progress towards the SDGs to be achieved by 2030. As we are well into the fourth year of SDG implementation, it is not surprising to see that the momentum towards the 2030 Agenda is waning in some places, particularly when governments change and seemingly more pressing policy issues are placed at the top of the agenda. Now is the moment to start remove obstacles to policies coherently working towards both the Paris Agreement and the 2030 Agenda.

Visualization Enables Deeper Insights

Enabling policy makers at local, regional and national levels to understand the positive and negative interactions among our objectives is an important first step towards coherent policies that will give authorities a sense of achievement that they are increasing climate action while also striving to meet the SDGs in their entirety.

Consider the NDC-SDG connections tool that SEI has developed together with the German Development Institute (DIE). It examines the activities mentioned in countries’ NDCs and connects them to the SDGs. The tool lets users explore how climate action activities are relevant to SDGs in the sphere of economy and environment, like land-use, water, and energy. However, connections with more “social” SDGs like those on gender equality or education also become visible.

A Practical Toolkit to Factor in Trade-offs

While visualizing connections is the first step to achieve coherent policies working towards climate action and the SDGs as a whole, the second step is to factor in trade-offs. That’s where the SDG Interactions Framework comes in.

SEI is piloting a new tool to visualize positive and negative interactions among SDG and climate targets.

The Framework uses a seven-point scale to score SDG interactions; the most positive interactions are scored as +3, while the most negative are -3. A new tool we have been piloting allows users to enter the scores digitally into an online matrix leading to a quick visualization of the results. The scoring is then complemented by a network analysis that can determine which interactions garner the most positive and negative results. This allows researchers to understand the key topics that link to each other and to identify the institutions and actors that could work together to maximize co-benefits in their efforts.

Pilots have been carried out in Mongolia, Sri Lanka and Colombia. While policy focus areas differ across these countries, the objective is identical: to enable integrated policy making and cost-effective implementation of priority SDGs by authorities at all levels of government. Our colleague at Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Sustainable Development and Wildlife, Sugath Yalegama, explains the need for such tools in his country: “There are 425 organisations and 52 ministries working on the 2030 Agenda in Sri Lanka. Working with SEI to apply the framework helps to make SDG implementation effective. It provides a systematic approach to prioritizing targets and analyzing how policies can complement one another in the implementation process.”

Upgrading the Toolbox

A range of practical tools and methods also developed by SEI let users explore cross-sectoral solutions. The WEAP (water, evaluation and planning) platform to explore water management options, and can account for climate change and social factors, such as gender. The LEAP platform is used in nearly 190 countries for long-term energy planning, with at least 37 using LEAP to help develop their NDCs in 2015.

Our latest effort to support on-the-ground implementation is the Integrated Benefits Calculator (LEAP-IBC), which gives implementation teams the ability to quantify climate and health benefits of different energy options. For example, LEAP-IBC can quantify the number of premature deaths that could be avoided through reducing emissions.

In Ghana, use of the LEAP-IBC has resulted in setting up a soot-free bus system. By connecting climate, transport and health LEAP-IBC reached beyond the agenda of the transport ministry to include the health ministry. This built a critical mass of policy and resources for change. UNFCCC COP 25 host country Chile uses LEAP-IBC for integrated approaches to address both air pollution and climate change.

Spreading Use of Methods to Other Actors

The use of these tools is not limited to governments and public institutions. They can be adapted also to businesses that see work towards the SDGs as an opportunity. For example, Sweden’s steel industry is now analyzing how decisions about investments affect the conditions for achieving all the goals of the 2030 Agenda, and is developing a 2030 Agenda Compass to guide strategic decision making.

Learning from each other and institutionalizing good practice is what is needed to deliver on the targets set forth in the Paris Agreement and 2030 Agenda. In conjunction with policy tools that demonstrate how actors on all levels and across all sectors can gain from having high levels of ambition, this will enable all of us to achieve the goals which we, the global community, have set for ourselves. Let’s not test the patience of the paper on which we wrote our goals.

The author, Mans Nilsson, is Executive Director of the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI).

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