For many years, the climate change conference of the parties closed the calendar year, but in 2017, other issues salient to the 2030 Agenda have made the final curtain call. Meetings with a focus on finance, pollution, migration, and trade have taken December’s stage, with a number of decisions (and non-decisions) that offer a preview of the sustainable development agenda for 2018.

The One Planet Summit, held on 12 December – the second anniversary of the adoption of the Paris Agreement – sought to inject urgency and ambition into climate policy and action. The meeting galvanized pledges from the World Bank, which will end finance for upstream oil and gas projects after 2019, to national governments, some of whom will launch a coalition of large sovereign wealth funds in support of climate action, to major foundations and civil society, all with the objective of achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change.

Next September, the climate change agenda will be the focus of another convening event outside the UNFCCC structure. California Governor Jerry Brown is organizing the Global Climate Action Summit, which will be co-chaired by UNFCCC Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change Michael Bloomberg, and Mahindra Group Chair Anand Mahindra. While the One Planet Summit focused on finance issues, the Global Climate Action Summit will focus on the “surge of climate action around the world – and make the case that even more must be done,” according to Espinosa.

During the first week of December, representatives from the 48 countries who will present their Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) to the July 2018 meeting of the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF 2018) were invited to Geneva, Switzerland, to discuss the VNR guidelines and process for preparing national assessments of progress and mapping their institutional structures. Next year will be the third full year of implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and the VNRs should yield some good examples of successes, challenges, and emergent best practices as they are released in the lead up to HLPF 2018.

Also at HLPF 2018, progress on a sub-set of six SDGs will be assessed: SDG 6 (clean water and sanitation); SDG 7 (affordable and clean energy); SDG 11 (sustainable cities and communities); SDG 12 (responsible consumption and production); SDG 15 (life on land); and SDG 17 (partnerships for the Goals). Preparations during December for the in-depth reviews of these Goals included the conclusion of a series of workshops in 30 countries, led by the Global Water Partnership, (GWP), together with the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the UN Development Programme (UNDP), to support data collection on SDG target 6.5, on integrated water resource management. These data will feed into a global baseline report titled, ‘SDG 6 Synthesis Report 2018 on Water and Sanitation,’ which a UN-Water task force is preparing for release prior to HLPF 2018. Also in December, the third session of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-3) addressed issues related to pollution, with implications for the review of SDG 12, and planning was underway for a global preparatory meeting to review SDG 7, in February 2018, and to convene a series of expert group meetings on the HLPF 2018 sub-set of SDGs, in April.

Relevant to SDG 15, meetings in December of the Convention on Biological Diversity’s (CBD) subsidiary bodies on scientific and technical advice and traditional knowledge sought to lay the foundation for the post-2020 global biodiversity framework and biodiversity’s contribution to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Deliberations during these meetings, and recommendations on biodiversity and health, biodiversity mainstreaming, and scenarios for the 2050 vision, were seen as important steps towards securing strategic positioning of the Convention vis-à-vis the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement on climate change, and will provide input to the November 2018 Biodiversity Conference, as well as HLPF 2018.

The eleventh Ministerial Conference (MC11) of the World Trade Organization (WTO), which concluded on 13 December, considered a draft text related to one of the SDGs focused on during HLPF 2017. SDG target 14.4, to, “by 2020, effectively regulate harvesting and end overfishing, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and destructive fishing practices and implement science-based management plans…”, was on the MC11 agenda. Delegates ultimately adopted a decision to “continue to engage constructively in the fisheries subsidies negotiations,” with the aim of adopting an agreement in 2019. HLPF 2018, through its consideration of SDG 12, will focus on another subsidy issue – that of fossil fuel subsidies.

Two other December 2017 events addressed additional themes we will be watching for in 2018. The focus of the Global Landscapes Forum, which concluded on 20 December, incorporates the interlinkages that must be accounted for if we are to implement the SDGs. It focuses on action on the ground, but in the context of the competing social, environmental, political and economic demands to produce multiple benefits from limited resources. The Forum also transitioned from an annual meeting to a year-round platform. News from the December stocktaking meeting and stakeholder dialogue on the preparatory process for the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, which is scheduled to be negotiated and adopted by December 2018, also highlights the role that competing political, environmental, economic and social demands play, but in this case it is in terms of where populations live. The role of international cooperation to address the interlinkages for limited resources and population centers will ultimately determine how well we implement the SDGs.

And while it wasn’t the last meeting of the year, the decisions taken at the November meeting of the 2017 UN Climate Change Conference help to round out the themes we will be watching for in 2018. COP 23 concluded with decisions on the structure of the Talanoa Dialogue (the Fijian name for the 2018 facilitative dialogue) and the establishment of a gender action plan, among other outcomes. The Talanoa Dialogue will seek to promote a dialogue and information sharing around the framing of the objectives of the climate change negotiations, and the first gender action plan for the Convention will seek to advance women’s full, equal and meaningful participation and promote gender-responsive climate policy and mainstreaming of a gender perspective in the implementation of the UNFCCC. In 2018, we will be watching for efforts to frame the challenges and opportunities around SDG linkages, and to give gender equality valuable space on the agenda and to maximize opportunities for linkages while aligning with other frameworks.

Lynn Wagner, Lauren Anderson, and Faye Leone