Building bridges for the future we want

Sven Harmeling, climate change advocacy coordinator for CARE International discusses the importance of interlinking climate change and sustainable development. 

In 2015, several international policy processes have geared up to reach historical agreements. The countdown began with the Sendai global framework for disaster risk reduction in March and continued in July with the Addis Ababa Agenda for Action on financing sustainable development. Now, countries are meeting at the UN General Assembly in New York to agree on a set of post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

It is clear that the stronger the SDGs are in tackling climate change, the more likely it is that an ambitious, long-term and legally binding climate change agreement will be reached in Paris in December. Together these two global commitments could set the world on a path to an equitable, poverty-free and environmentally sustainable future.

A recent study by CARE and WWF shows that climate change and sustainable development are interlinked and must be regarded as two sides of the same coin. All actions should be promoted as “twin tracks” to ensure that development is sustainable and equitable in a carbon-constrained world. 

Climate change sets back development gains

Climate change is the single greatest threat to achieving a world of hope, tolerance and social justice.

A vast amount of studies, consolidated in the fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), prove that the impacts of climate change are increasing across the world. The poorest and most marginalised people and communities, often women and children, are hit the hardest by climate impacts, which are preventing them from attaining a decent quality of life or enjoying their basic human rights. When the human lens is applied to analysing climate change impacts, it is evident that development needs and gains are increasingly threatened. Climatic changes are undermining food and nutrition security, keeping poor people in poverty traps, and throwing back entire economies in their development by 20 years, as recently seen in the Caribbean state of Dominica. It is clear that the effects to human development would be catastrophic unless we act with urgency. 

Local solutions can work, but unabated climate change will overwhelm communities

The fifth IPCC assessment report identifies multiple adaptation measures for poor people and communities. Vulnerable communities in developing countries, many of which CARE work with, are struggling to maintain and secure their livelihoods in the changing climate. In Niger, CARE is working with local farmers to help them better predict erratic rainfall. The usage of rain gauges enables the farmers to keep track of actual rainfall season by season and plant crops more appropriately, which results in a more stable production of food. In Peru, CARE and its partners are working among mountain communities to promote disaster risk reduction strategies to reduce the impacts of potential glacial lake outbursts. Global warming is making the Andes lose many glaciers rapidly, affecting poor people’s water supplies and food production.

These are just a few of the many examples that show that integrating climate risks in any sustainable development and poverty reduction effort is crucial. Synergies between climate action and promoting sustainable development can be also found in other areas, such as in marine and terrestrial ecosystem protection, and in developing resilient infrastructures. To provide solutions for the future, it will be important to continuously learn from their implementation and adapt solutions to changing climate conditions. Moreover, CARE’s experience in working with vulnerable communities in developing countries has proven that no real gains can be achieved unless gender equality and human rights are fully integrated into all development or climate change approaches.

However, climate change adaptation is not enough.

While recent announcements by major economies such as the US, China and EU could step up climate action nationally in principle and they must be welcomed, they lag far behind from what is needed. If greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, we will pass the threshold beyond which global warming becomes catastrophic and irreversible. That threshold is estimated as a temperature rise of between 1.5 and two degrees above pre-industrial levels, and currently we are on track towards a three degrees increase and temperatures could rise by up to five degrees in Africa. This will directly result in disastrous humanitarian and ecological consequences.

We must not fail our children and grandchildren          

Failure to respond to climate change today will trigger irreversible consequences which our children and grandchildren will not be able to repeal.

As the UN Secretary General Ban-ki Moon has underlined, “Ours is the first generation that can end poverty, and the last that can take steps to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.”

We cannot deliver sustainable development without tackling climate change, and we cannot tackle climate change without addressing the root causes of poverty, inequality and unsustainable development patterns. This realisation is articulated in the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. The agenda not only contains a distinct climate change goal (#13), but climate is also integrated into the other goals. By adopting this agenda governments will finally acknowledge that “the adverse impacts [of climate change] undermine the ability of all countries to achieve sustainable development.”

From New York to Paris and beyond: high stakes, high hopes?

As world leaders convene in New York, voices from the civil society, private sector, faith groups and many more are demanding for climate justice. We have a shared responsibility to help the most vulnerable to adapt to the adverse effects of climate change.

Now is the time to leave the fossil fuel era behind us and embrace the many available renewable energy options to keep global warming to a safe 1.5 degrees.

Furthermore, although countries are likely to reach a long-term climate agreement in Paris, there is a high risk that it will leave many of the most vulnerable countries and people behind. Heads of state must come to New York with a new sense of urgency to speed up the climate negotiations. The world cannot afford to give up on the SDGs and the vision to achieve human rights for all just two months after their adoption through a weak and unjust climate deal.

To set the world on a safer and just course, a global goal to phase out fossil fuel emissions and fully shift to renewable energies before 2050 should be included in the Paris agreement. Governments must commit to supporting mechanisms that can assess progress and scale up the ambition of all signatories on climate mitigation and adaptation efforts every five years. Phasing out fossil fuel subsidies will free up hundreds of billions of dollars for the implementation of the SDGs. Therefore, a financial package that increases support for climate adaptation of the poor and vulnerable would ensure progress on the SDGs. Finally, world leaders should take a personal commitment to undertake every effort to harness the synergies between poverty reduction, promoting sustainable development, and bold climate action, starting now and not later. This can build a strong bridge to the Paris negotiations and taking the world close to a safer and fairer world we want for future generations.