4 June 2020
UN Synergies Webinar Explores Climate-Health-Growth Nexus
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The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs and the UNFCCC Secretariat held the first in a series of consultations on synergies between the SDGs and climate action.

The webinar highlighted the role of climate and SDG synergies in recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The next webinars in the series will convene on 11 and 25 June.

The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) and the Secretariat of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) held the first in a series of consultations on synergies between the SDGs and climate action. The webinar series represents the 2020 edition of the Climate and SDGs Synergies Conference, which first convened in Copenhagen, Denmark, in April 2019.

The webinar, which took place on 28 May 2020, highlighted the role of climate and SDG synergies in recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic. Moderator Alexander Trepelkov, DESA, said the SDGs and the Paris Agreement on climate change comprise our essential road map for response and recovery for a sustainable, just, and resilient future. He said the webinar will inform discussions at the 2020 session of the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF), UNFCCC COP 26, the Global Sustainable Transport Conference, the UN Ocean Conference, and the UN Food Systems Summit.

In opening remarks, Liu Zhenmin, UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, said climate change remains the biggest long-term threat. He noted that coordination between climate action and the SDGs is especially important amid the pandemic.

Patricia Espinosa, UNFCCC Executive Secretary, said the climate emergency “has not taken time off for the coronavirus,” nor has the pandemic put us on track to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. She explained that without stronger action, climate change could worsen COVID-19 and every other challenge by exacerbating hunger, air pollution, and the lack of clean water and sanitation. Espinosa stressed that countries’ updated Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) are still due in 2020, and must be more ambitious than their previous submissions. 

Zitouni Ould-Dada, Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), highlighted the interconnections between health, hunger, trade, air pollution, poverty, and inequality. He said recovering better requires harnessing their synergies and tradeoffs, and this means aligning short-term goals with medium- and long-term ones.

Thibault Voita, NDC Partnership, reported that 51 countries are incorporating inclusive growth in their NDCs, including by bringing labor and poverty/development ministries into their climate actions. He said 13 countries have substantive health-related actions in their NDCs, such as collecting data and conducting assessments. Only a few countries – Burkina Faso, Jordan, Mozambique, Marshall Islands, and Uganda – are considering the climate-health-inclusive growth nexus in their NDC Partnership work. Voita stressed that NDCs can be used as a pillar of countries’ economic recovery plans to ensure no one is left behind and alignment with the Paris Agreement. He said some countries are considering their NDCs within their stimulus plans.

Henning Wuester, Initiative for Climate Action Transparency, stressed the need for data-driven policy making. He noted a particular need for data on the multiplier effects of NDC spending on intersecting issues. He suggested finding ways to sustain the environmentally positive shifts initiated as part of the pandemic, such as creating bike lanes and switching off coal, while also generating positive economic impacts.

Charlie Heaps, Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), said climate action is considered a luxury amid the urgency of getting people back to work, but our response to the pandemic will determine whether we avoid catastrophic climate change.

Jason Veysey, SEI, informed participants that SEI’s Low Emissions Analysis Platform (LEAP) has new features for evaluation of health impacts. Veysey also said many countries lack the capacity to conduct analysis of climate-SDG synergies, especially in an inclusive, transparent, and update-able way. He called for more capacity building for inclusive analytical processes.

Ivonne Lobos-Alva, SEI, said synergies should be looked at in a longer-term way, beyond immediate co-benefits. She said COVID recovery packages should be checked against both a country’s NDC and the SDGs to ensure they do not reverse progress. On capacity building, she added that the specific climate-SDG interactions depend heavily on local context, and policy makers should be able to consider several options to account for the interactions. She recommended gathering actors that are considering different solutions, to understand the potential effects of each one on other policies. SEI plans to launch a website on SDG synergies in early July 2020.

Karen Holm Olsen, UNEP/DTU, Junichi Fujino, IGES, and Felipe De Leon, Ministry of Environment and Energy, Costa Rica, discussed the theme, ‘Monitoring Synergies for Transparent & Accountable COVID-19 Recovery.’ Olsen said the over-exploitation of nature can cause “Green Swan” events – high-probability occurrences that we create ourselves, although we don’t know when or where they will happen. She noted that banks and the finance community have to take these risks into account. She also highlighted the value of monitoring NDC-SDG synergies through the Paris Agreement’s enhanced transparency framework.

During the discussion, speakers called attention the importance of local level action and building capacity for long-term analysis and planning. The role of nature-based solutions, such as planting mangroves or increased renewable energy installations, were discussed. The value of merging NDCs and development plans was also discussed. The importance of tools over guidance or one-off projects, and long-term structural support and partnerships to develop those tools, were also emphasized.  

Closing the discussion, Ould-Dada said current experiences with integrating health, development planning, and climate change provide lessons with dealing with synergies in practice. 

The next webinars in the series will convene on 11 and 25 June. [Webinar Programme] [SDG Knowledge Hub sources]

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