UN development goals must include climate change

Case for including a climate change target on UN’s post-2015 agenda is stronger than ever, but topic still faces exclusion

Pic: Michael Matti/Flickr

Pic: Michael Matti/Flickr

By Joy Hyvarinen 

This week the UN working group that is tasked with drafting a proposal for new global sustainable development goals (“SDGs”) is meeting in New York.

It is a critical meeting for global efforts to tackle climate change, in particular when it comes to helping the poor and vulnerable countries and communities that will take the hardest impacts from climate change.

There is a risk that the UN working group will decide that there is no need for a sustainable development goal on climate change and that instead climate change can be integrated under the other goals.

Joining up climate change and other sustainable development goals is important, but not having a stand-alone sustainable development goal on climate change would leave a critical gap in the UN post-2015 development agenda.

New targets

Almost 180 organizations, including FIELD, have written a letter to government representatives in New York to urge them to make sure that climate change is given the attention it deserves in the sustainable development goals, including a separate sustainable development goal on climate change.

The sustainable development goals will guide the international community’s efforts to promote development for all at a time when climate change is recognized as one of the greatest threats to development. Climate change needs a dedicated sustainable development goal.

The sustainable development goals will build on the eight Millennium Development Goals, most of which have a target year of 2015. The new goals are meant to be a fairly short list of punchy and inspirational overall goals, with more details in targets and indicators for each goal. There is pressure to reduce the number of proposed goals, but leaving climate change without a dedicated sustainable development goal is not the answer.

The world has experienced nothing like climate change before. It is creating unprecedented demands on international cooperation and unprecedented threats to poor and vulnerable countries and communities that are already struggling on the development frontline.

The poor and vulnerable should be at the centre of the sustainable development goals and the UN post-2015 agenda.


The UN working group is meant to report to the UN General Assembly by September this year with a proposal for the new sustainable development goals, so there is little time left for it to finalize its work.

At the start of the working group negotiations this week a revised list of sustainable development goals reportedly included climate change in one goal, but combined with promoting sustainable consumption and production. Changes to consumption and production are a crucial part of combating climate change, but climate change has many other dimensions and development implications.

There are separate on-going negotiations on a new climate change agreement under the UNFCCC, but there are no legal or other reasons why climate change should not be fully included in the sustainable development goals. On the contrary.

Report: Climate clings to sustainable development goals as debate intensifies

Currently the world is not on course to keep warming to the agreed global goal of 2C or less. The window of opportunity to still stay under the 2C limit is closing fast. Vulnerable countries argue that 2C is too much for them and the target should be 1.5C or less.

The negotiations on the 2015 climate change agreement currently seem unlikely to result in the deep emission reductions that the world needs.

In FIELD’s view this makes it increasingly important to create a second line of defence or safety net for the countries and communities that will take the hardest climate change impacts. The sustainable development goals and the UN post-2015 agenda should do that. Issues like adaptation and climate loss and damage are under negotiation in the UNFCCC, but it is unclear how much progress will be possible.

Even if there were progress in the UNFCCC negotiations, climate change is a development threat on a scale never seen before – it demands a sustainable development goal of its own.

Joy Hyvarinen is Executive Director of the Foundation for International Environmental Law and Development

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