Representatives from governments, the private sector, academia, civil society, and the UN system met face to face to discuss a coordinated agenda for implementation “to advance action on climate and the SDGs by tackling them together, synergistically”.
On the way forward, the main takeaways from the discussions, including considerations of how “imagining an integrated approach” can help design real-life steps and the value of short- to medium-term targets – rather than waiting until 2050, supported the general consensus that a profound transformation is “needed, possible, and beneficial for all”.
“Ramping up action on synergies between climate action and the SDGs is needed now more than ever.” This is one of the key messages from the Third Global Conference on Strengthening Synergies Between the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which sought to expand the evidence base on synergies and trade-offs between climate change and the SDGs to help raise ambition and accelerate progress on the two agendas.
The Third Global Climate and SDG Synergy Conference convened at the mid-point in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, when multiple converging crises are putting the 17 Goals at risk. Climate change impacts, including the recent heatwaves in Western Europe and North America, the COVID-19 pandemic, biodiversity loss, and conflicts in Ukraine and elsewhere, with negative knock-on effects on global food and energy security, are challenging the international community to come up with mutually supportive strategies to keep the 1.5°C temperature goal a reality and enable the achievement of the global Goals by their 2030 deadline. However, recent data indicate that there has been a reversal of progress on a number of Goals. Energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions reached their all-time high in 2021, and, based on current commitments, global emissions are set to increase by nearly 14% over the next decade, adding urgency to the UN Secretary-General’s calls to “turn the tide” and “rescue” the 2030 Agenda.
In this context, the conference background paper highlights uncertainties in the energy, transport, industry, food, and land use systems, and points out that interactions between climate change mitigation and SDGs 4 (quality education), 5 (gender equality), 10 (reduced inequalities), 16 (peace, justice and strong institutions), and 17 (partnerships for the Goals) “could be clearer.” To inform discussions, the paper presents several options for strengthening the evidence base for synergistic action, such as identifying: ways to advance holistic integrated approaches that cut across space, systems, and stakeholders; existing needs and opportunities for scaling up capacity building, including youth empowerment; opportunities for greater sharing of experiences at all levels; options for enhancing integrated planning; and new partnerships for transformation.
The Third Global Climate and SDG Synergy Conference provided a long-awaited opportunity for representatives from governments, the private sector, academia, civil society, and the UN system to meet face to face to discuss a coordinated agenda for implementation “to advance action on climate and the SDGs by tackling them together, synergistically.” Convened by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) and UNFCCC, in partnership with UN University (UNU) and the Institute for Global Environmental Studies (IGES), and hosted by Japan’s Ministry of the Environment, the meeting took place in a hybrid format at the UNU campus in Tokyo, Japan, from 20-21 July 2022.
Synergy Conference: The origins
With the adoption in 2015 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on climate change, countries “established a foundation for coherent implementation of climate action and sustainable development objectives across all levels and sectors,” notes the Earth Negotiations Bulletin (ENB) in its summary report of the conference. While the Paris Agreement and SDG 13 are dedicated to climate action, the 2030 Agenda is integrated and indivisible in its coverage of the economic, social, and environmental dimensions of sustainable development.
Recognizing that cohesive and synergistic implementation of the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement could lead to multiple mutual benefits, DESA and the UNFCCC Secretariat convened the first global conference on strengthening synergies between the two agendas in 2019. The conference sought to identify specific examples to illustrate the potential of synergistic and interlinked approaches, analyze gaps and challenges, and offer recommendations for strengthening synergies, increasing ambition, avoiding duplication, and maximizing co-benefits.
The success of the conference prompted the agencies to decide to make it an annual event; however, plans for a second in-person conference were derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, DESA and UNFCCC, in cooperation with the UN Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), launched an e-learning course on ‘Harnessing Climate and SDGs Synergies,’ and co-convened three webinars on:
- Thinking Ahead for a Sustainable, Just, and Resilient Recovery;
- Synergies for Just Transitions and Economic Recovery; and
- Going Forward with Climate and SDG Synergies.
These outputs, ENB reports, “outlined options for synergistic policy interventions in different sectors using an integrated nexus approach.”
Third Synergy Conference: profound transformation is “needed, possible, and beneficial for all”
Convening at a critical juncture in the implementation of multilateral commitments, the Third Global Climate and SDG Synergy Conference aimed to assess progress made over the recent years on synergistic action towards the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C temperature goal while bringing the world back on track to achieve the SDGs by 2030, and to spur “more deliberate action and collaboration” by generating a better understanding of the co-benefits of tackling the climate and sustainable development agendas together at the national, regional, and global level.
During the event’s high-level segment, ministers and senior leaders affirmed their climate and sustainable development commitments, with many stressing the urgency of needed action. UN General Assembly (UNGA) President Abdulla Shahid highlighted the SDGs as “the framework that should guide our transition to a healthier and better world,” and emphasized the cross-cutting nature of climate change. He said “protecting our ocean and forests, improving access to clean water and sanitation, ensuring access to sustainable energy and ensuring sustainable consumption and production … will help tackle global warming and the worst effects of climate change.”
Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs Liu Zhenmin highlighted “the need to invest in renewable technologies to increase jobs and bring about social and economic benefits of clean energy,” noting that “achieving climate-SDGs synergies can yield direct economic gains of USD 26 trillion through 2030.”
Throughout the two-day event, participants presented a wide array of actions being taken by governments, businesses, and civil society to address climate and sustainable development objectives in tandem. These ranged from ski resorts wanting to ensure snow seasons continue, to municipal authorities acting to reduce energy and food waste and to promote circular economies. Many speakers identified the co-benefits that can be derived from action to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, including better public health outcomes and more appealing urban environments.
On the way forward, the main takeaways from the discussions, including considerations of how “imagining an integrated approach” can help design real-life steps, the value of short- to medium-term targets – rather than waiting until 2050, and the need for partnerships to benefit all parties, supported the general consensus that a profound transformation is “needed, possible, and beneficial for all.”
From HLPF 2022 to COP 27
The need for integrated, whole-of-government, and whole-of-society approaches to build back better while implementing the SDGs, which had been repeatedly emphasized during the July 2022 session of the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF), was one of the main messages that came from the Third Global Climate and SDG Synergy Conference.
Among concrete steps countries could take to improve climate-SDGs synergies, the conference recommended actions to streamline national reporting, such as referencing in their voluntary national reviews (VNRs) and nationally determined contributions (NDCs) actions that are relevant both for the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement.
The need for enhanced collaboration among relevant multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs), including the UNFCCC, the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), emphasized by UNFCCC Acting Executive Secretary Ibrahim Thiaw, also emerged as key, with speakers highlighting linkages with the negotiations towards the post-2020 global biodiversity framework and action on desertification and the ocean.
The next major event to focus on climate action in the context of sustainable development is the UN Climate Change Conference (UNFCCC COP 27) in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, in November. Looking ahead, DESA summarized the main messages emanating from the conference, including that:
- win-win outcomes for synergies between climate action and the SDGs can be achieved through deliberate action;
- integrated planning with local governments can catalyze progress;
- a just transition to net zero emissions and leaving no one behind is critical, and must include women, Indigenous Peoples and local communities, and youth; and
- enhancing capacities to identify opportunities and overcoming barriers, such as financial and technical challenges, are prerequisites for action.
It remains to be seen whether countries will use the opportunity offered by COP 27 to build on the outcomes of HLPF 2022 and the Third Global Climate and SDG Synergy Conference and leverage the existing linkages to enable synergistic action on the climate and sustainable development fronts, accelerate implementation, and build back better while leaving no one behind.