CARE and WWF regard the SDGs and the Paris Agreement as “twin tracks” for developing sustainably and equitably in a carbon-constrained world.
We assessed the 2016 Voluntary National Reviews and the findings suggest that there is much more that countries can do to address the climate change and sustainable development nexus.
We offer five recommendations, including: consider climate change at the planning stage for VNRs and think about how climate change is being addressed or has adverse impacts across all of the SDGs.
This year’s UN General Assembly marks the 2nd anniversary of the adoption of the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Shortly after, the world can also celebrate the first anniversary of the Paris Agreement on climate change coming into force. The tragic events of the last few weeks have shown that weather extremes, fueled by a warming atmosphere and warming oceans, can devastate entire countries and, within a matter of hours, set back years of development. Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, and the extreme monsoon floods in Asia, which affected over 40 million people, have shown this with uncompromising force. Integrating climate change and sustainable development action is therefore needed now more than ever. CARE and WWF regard the SDGs and the Paris Agreement as “twin tracks” for developing sustainably and equitably in a carbon-constrained world.
One method for understanding how countries approach these two agreements is to analyse the way climate change is addressed in countries’ reports on the SDGs. Every year a number of countries submit a Voluntary National Review (VNR) to the United Nations High-Level Political Forum (HLPF), where they report their progress on the SDGs. 2017 was the second year of reporting and 44 countries provided VNRs, double the number of 2016.
National SDG Reports Can Do More to Address the Climate Change SDG Nexus
We assessed the 2016 VNRs and the findings suggest that there is much more that countries can do to address the climate change and sustainable development nexus. An initial review of the 2017 VNRs suggests this is an ongoing trend.
For example, both in 2016 and 2017, certain countries did not address climate change in either the summary or full report in their VNRs: some didn’t refer to climate change in their executive summaries, but then go on to pay significantly more attention in their full reports, while others included climate change throughout.
A few countries -– including Mexico, Montenegro, South Korea and Uganda in 2016, and Bangladesh, Cyprus, Jordan and Maldives in 2017 – described in detail how climate change has been or is going to be integrated across policy frameworks as part of the implementation of the SDGs.
Some countries referenced the official intended Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) that they submitted into the Paris Agreement process, and offered these targets as their main climate change policy objective. However, further linkages to the country’s sustainable development efforts are often either absent or minimal. This was the case in the reports by Colombia, France, Germany, Switzerland, and Togo in 2016 and Bangladesh, India, Japan, Jordan and Thailand in 2017.
Aspects of SDG 13, the Climate Change Goal, are addressed in most of the 22 country reports from 2016 and in various 2017 reports, ranging from a minimal reference to climate change to more in-depth elaboration. A number of countries have provided detail on each SDG, and in some cases this included specific linkages to climate change within various SDGs (e.g. hunger, gender equality, water or ecosystems). Good practice examples include France, Germany, Montenegro, Uganda and Norway for 2016; based on an initial review of the 2017 reports, Argentina, Benin, Czech Republic and Portugal appear to be heading in the right direction.
Very few reports paid specific attention to the different population groups who are particularly vulnerable to climate change impacts. Given that climate change impacts the poorest groups first and hardest, and that a central principle of the SDGs is ‘Leave No One Behind,’ this is an omission we would like to see addressed in the 2018 reporting round.
Some countries elaborate on the institutional mechanisms identified to implement the SDGs, with a few detailing how climate change and climate change specific institutions feature in this work (e.g. Mexico, Montenegro, the Philippines, Sierra Leone in 2016).
Five Recommendations for Addressing Climate Change in the National SDG Reports
Countries should consider the following when developing their next reporting activities to the international community on SDGs.
- It is important to consider climate change at the planning stage for VNRs, engaging government officials working on climate change as well as civil society and other stakeholders focusing on climate issues.
- Countries should think about how climate change is being addressed or has adverse impacts not only with regard to the climate goal (SDG 13) but across all the different goals. Consideration should be given to different temperature scenarios for global warming (e.g. 1.5 degrees, 2 degrees, 3 degrees or higher), as they have significant impacts on a country’s sustainable development. Temperature scenarios must also align with the Leave No One Behind agenda and explore what a country is doing to address these intersecting vulnerabilities and help the poorest people already threatened by climate impacts.
- Goal 13 can be used as the entry point for the Nationally Determined Contributions and to display how their key elements (including targets) link with other SDGs identified as critical in the country.
- It is important that the VNRs have a statement in the summary about the links between climate change, climate action and the achievement of the SDGs, with a more detailed explanation in the full report (as many readers will only get as far as the summary!).
- Countries should not avoid challenging areas in their reporting. The integrated nature of the SDGs is one of the most challenging aspects of the 2030 Agenda but also potentially the most transformational. Sharing experiences of challenges, such as integrating climate change, adds to the value of VNRs.
Sven Harmeling was Climate Change Advocacy Coordinator CARE International, when this article was published.