Integrated planning for climate change mitigation and sustainable development aims can provide a new impetus for beneficial actions on both.
It should be the rule, not the exception.
By Chris Malley and Jason Veysey, SEI
The global aims of limiting climate change and achieving sustainable development overlap. The Paris Agreement on climate change calls for promoting sustainable development to help limit global temperature rise, and explicitly mentions sustainable development at least 16 times. One of the 17 SDGs of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development explicitly calls for climate action (SDG 13: “Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.”)
In the eight years since these global aims were adopted, progress has veered so far off track that it is difficult to envision how the world can halve greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions or achieve multiple development goals in the timeline it has set for itself: by 2030. Nevertheless, every tonne of GHG emissions avoided will lessen the devastating impacts of climate change, and each incremental step towards development goals will improve lives. Fast action on both agendas remains an imperative.
One way to achieve greater traction on these aims is by working on them together, rather than in isolation. We take this view based on our work over the past ten years in more than 20 countries, where we have used a two-in-one approach that integrates planning for climate change mitigation and sustainable development. The basic premise is that progress can occur when the prevailing reason for action changes. The approach posits that countries may be persuaded to do more on climate if decarbonization is treated not as an end in itself but as a means towards a different goal: enhancing national development.
We are not saying that climate mitigation action is somehow less urgent, or that countries should not be held to their formal pledges to contribute to the effort. This is vital for all of us, no matter where we live. Nevertheless, in the day-in, day-out din of government policymaking, climate action can easily be eclipsed by other immediate needs and pressing political agendas. Policies to achieve climate goals are held back by all kinds of impediments – their sheer complexity, budget constraints, disconnected policies, competing ministry agendas, and a lack of political will. Moreover, one country’s efforts can seem small and relatively insignificant when viewed in the context of the many and far-reaching behavioral, technological, and policy changes all nations must make to address the climate problem.
This is why it is important to leverage other motivations to act. For example, what if a country that relies on imported oil were to approach decarbonization as a way to achieve energy independence and boost its security? What if a country with high levels of air pollution were to see decarbonization as a means to improve air quality, enhance the health of its citizens, and lower national healthcare costs?
The essence of integrated planning on climate and development is that it can provide a new impetus for beneficial action – either by accelerating efforts to achieve existing climate change targets, or by ramping up climate commitments themselves. By leveraging national-level development interests to push forward agendas, integrated planning can also help achieve worldwide climate goals. We have witnessed this time and again in our own work.
In Nigeria, integrated planning has shown how policies and measures were able to reduce GHG emissions, and that these same actions were also able to reduce air pollution exposure and improve public health – a key pillar of Nigeria’s national development plans. As a result of this work, Nigeria became the first country in the world to state quantitatively the health benefits that could be achieved from implementing its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) under the Paris Agreement. Planners estimate that 30,000 premature deaths could be avoided every year by 2030.
In Colombia, integrated planning helped decision makers see the health benefits that could accrue from climate change action. As a result, the country has set a specific, quantitative target to reduce black carbon emissions alongside an ambitious target to reduce GHGs. This is a two-for-one gain because black carbon is both a toxic air pollutant and a major contributor to global temperature rise.
In Morocco, the government is using integrated planning to prepare its long-term, low-emission development strategy – a comprehensive plan that charts a path to net-zero GHG emissions. Decision makers are selecting measures for the strategy not just on the basis of cost and emission reductions, but through an explicit consideration of impacts on energy affordability and security, health, gender equality, sustainable industry, and economic growth. More ambitious mitigation action is a priority for these reasons, and planning for multiple benefits is ensuring widespread support.
This approach is not a panacea. Even with enthusiastic national leadership, integrated plans are difficult to develop and even more difficult to implement. There are many hurdles. Data are limited. Competition among government agencies is fierce. Though countries have existing processes for climate change and development planning, truly integrating these requires technical tools to evaluate links and quantify benefits, well-trained planners who can use these tools to analyze the consequences of action and inaction, and decision makers who are willing to prioritize actions that can achieve simultaneous climate and development benefits.
Then, of course, one must move from planning to implementation, which faces funding gaps. One way to address this barrier would be for international processes themselves to push integrated planning to the fore. Organizations providing support to national climate change planning should ensure that links between climate change mitigation actions and development are embedded within their projects. Climate change financing organizations, such as the Green Climate Fund (GCF), should prioritize funding those actions which achieve joint climate and development benefits. Both international donors and national decision makers should recognize the value of integrated plans and take advantage of them. The goal should be to make this type of planning and implementation the norm.
Our experiences in Africa, Asia, and Latin America suggest that integrating planning gives countries a way to see the connections that matter to them between sustainable development and climate change mitigation while policies are being developed – and to see ways to act on these connections. This kind of planning can help mobilize resources and spur implementation. It can help expand the coalition of support for climate and development actions. The payoffs can be great.
Chris Malley is a Senior Researcher and Jason Veysey is a Senior Scientist with the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), where they work with a research initiative focused on integrated planning.
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This perspective piece is part of a series authored by researchers from the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), published in partnership with IISD. In the series, SEI researchers examine ways to implement the 2030 Agenda without abandoning principles, diluting aims, or leaving people behind.