5th International Climate Change Report and its Impact on Sustainable Development

sustainable-development-12A new report put together by several leading environmental nonprofit organizations such as Greenpeace and WWF, sheds light on the interrelation between global development problems and climate change.

Highlighting the importance of inserting targets to combat climate change within the UN’s new sustainable development agenda, the report referred to the limited time frame to prevent irreversible climate disruption and concluded that if we do not address climate change within the timeframe of the SDGs, there will be no future sustainable development.

What the climate science tells us

With the release of the 5th assessment report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) scientists are now more than 95% certain that human activity is responsible for the rapid increase in global temperatures experienced since the 1900s. The IPCC’s latest report finds that, without an aggressive strategy to start cutting global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions immediately, global temperature will significantly exceed 2°C warming above pre-industrial levels by 2100.

BE65a-CD1-ClimateDisruption-300x146The effects of climate change are already being felt, contributing to increasing heat waves and droughts, which in turn affect poverty, livelihoods and health. These are projected to worsen over the SDGs’ 15-year timeframe, regardless of the extent of emissions cuts now, because there is a delayed warming effect from past emissions.

The Impact of Climate Change on the UN’s Sustainable Development Agenda

The new UN Post-2015 development Framework, to be agreed in September 2015, will include a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These goals offer a crucial opportunity to ensure the threat to poverty reduction from climate change is adequately addressed. Robust action to achieve emissions cuts and resilience to the impacts of climate change must be integrated throughout the SDGs and reinforced in a strong standalone goal on climate.

article-sea-level-rise_16648_600x450Some examples of the impact on development of these climate concerns include:

  • Rising sea levels and more frequent and intense extreme-weather events, for instance, are worsening poverty in many regions, destroying or damaging homes and property and reducing crop yields;
  • Both rural and urban poverty are worsening due to impacts on farming and rising food prices. This will undermine progress on SDGs on poverty and on hunger, food security and nutrition.
  • Health is also affected by climate change, because of increasing malnutrition and changes to disease vectors.

Policy Responses to these Risks

If global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions peak in 2020 and then decline steeply, the increasingly damaging impacts of climate change can be avoided.

renewable-energy-istockThe choices governments make about new energy investments and infrastructure over the 15-year timeframe of the SDGs will determine whether emissions are cut fast enough and the climate change threat is contained. The IPCC argues that if cutting GHG emissions is integrated with social objectives, it can also bring many development co-benefits – promoting sustainable livelihoods, health, nutrition, ecosystems, gender equality and economic growth. One example is increased investment in universal access to renewable energy. It empowers poor communities and spurs inclusive growth, at the same time as cutting pollution, creating decent jobs and improving energy security globally.

Both the SDGs and an agreement on climate action under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) are to be agreed in 2015.

At the national level, a climate deal between China and the United States, the world’s No. 1 and No. 2 carbon polluters, is viewed as essential to concluding a new global accord. Momentum was fortunately created by the recent pledges put forward by the USA (26% GHG emissions reductions below 2005 industrial levels by 2025) and China (peak carbon emissions by 2030, ensuring that clean energy sources, solar and windmills, account for 20% of total energy production by 2030).  The problem will be to keep that momentum going.


From the evidence put forward above, both the development agenda and the climate change agenda are today strongly interdependent. With one process influencing the other, a set of SDGs that integrates climate change goals and targets will complement the climate action agreed under the UNFCCC. In doing so this will increase momentum to mitigate GHG emissions and adapt to climate change prior to 2020, when the new UNFCCC deal is due to be implemented.

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