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Climate Change: How This Crisis Will Impact the Achievement of The SDGs?

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Viewpoint by Fernando Rosales

The author is Coordinator of the Sustainable Development and Climate Change Programme (SDCC) of the South Centre.

GENEVA (IDN) — The SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) adopted in 2015 reflect the multilateral consensus to deal with the most crucial problems humanity is facing nowadays. The 17 goals are multidimensional and are interlinked with each other. At the same time, climate change crisis is the most serious threat to human life itself and it has deepened in the last 30 years. Even though, SDG 13 specifically relates to “Climate Action”, it is very likely that the climate crisis is also going to affect the achievement of many other SDGs. (P20) FRENCH | GERMAN | JAPANESE TEXT VERSION PDF | SWAHILI

Over 40 years ago, during the First World Climate Conference, the international community based on scientific findings expressed “…serious concern that the continued expansion of man’s activities on Earth may cause significant extended regional and even global changes of climate”. Since then, concerns and climate problems continued to grow around the world, leading the international community to adopt the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 1992 during the Earth Summit.

The UNFCCC established the basic principles for international cooperation with provisions about the responsibilities of developed and developing countries. Historically, developed countries counted for around 70% of global carbon emissions, even though they have represented only 20% of the world’s population. The UNFCCC recognized that the largest share of historical and current global emissions of greenhouse gases has originated in developed countries. Therefore, these countries have to face their responsibilities and it is expected that they take the lead to fight the climate crisis and support developing countries, including by providing financial support to the latter to comply with their obligations under the Convention.

This convention in turn, gave birth to the Paris Agreement (PA) in 2015 which establishes a global goal to “Holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change”. Since then, countries have adopted National Determined Contributions (NDCs) establishing their own targets to achieve the goal mentioned above. The PA states that the NDCs are going to be reviewed after every five years[5] with the hope of having more ambitious targets in each review.

Despite these advances in international cooperation, it remains insufficient to fight against the climate crisis. Global warming continues at an unprecedented rate. The last IPCC report on climate change, issued in August 2021, examined five scenarios about the likelihood to reach 1.5°C global warming in the next 30 years. The analyses of this scientific body found that in each of the five scenarios, the 1.5°C global warming is exceeded sometime in the next 20 years (2021-2040).

Unfortunately, any increase in global warming is going to impact negatively on human life. According to the IPCC 2018, the effects of climate change are going to have negative impacts on almost every human activity. This is the case of health for example where some vector-borne diseases, such as malaria and dengue fever will increase. Heat waves will be more frequent causing more droughts and floods, making farming more difficult, lowering crop yields, and causing food shortages.

Rising seas will clearly impact people living in coastal regions, which may be submerged in the coming decades. Small island nations are particularly vulnerable in this regard. The Artic is already close to having a summer with no ice. Once it happens, it will likely happen every year, which has not happened in at least two million years. Many species of insects, plants, and vertebrates will be at risk of extinction. The consequences will be far worse if the 2°C threshold is reached.

The situation does not look very promising. 2020 was already one of the three warmest years on record—the global average temperature was 1.2°C above the pre-industrial baseline and with just this temperature the world has witnessed serious flooding in western Europe, Japan, China, droughts in Iraq, extreme heat and wildfires in North America, South America, Australia and so on. In May 2021, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) warned that there is about a 40% chance of the annual average global temperature temporarily reaching 1.5°C above the pre-industrial level in at least one of the next five years.

In this context, the outcome of the UNFCCC Conference of Parties N° 26 (COP26) from October 31 to November 12, 2021 for more ambitious NDCs for 2030 to keep 1.5°C within reach, is important for Global Goal on Adaptation, climate finance including the need for setting the new collective quantified (post-2025) goal and finalizing Article 6 in the Paris Rulebook.

The issues mentioned above are of critical importance for developing countries. One of the crucial issues that may enable developing countries to contribute better to the fight against climate change is climate finance. Governments in developing countries, are struggling with their socio-economic needs and increasing external debt. The COVID 19 pandemic has made the situation even more challenging.

Without the appropriate means of implementation these countries may not be able to achieve the PA goals. This is something that the international community, in particular developed countries, have to consider for taking decisive actions, in line with their international commitments, to support developing countries to fight the climate crisis.

One thing is clear, if the humanity is unsuccessful in stopping the climate crisis, it is going to be very challenging to achieve many SDGs by the 2030 timeframe. As explained above health will be affected, as well as foot security, access to clean water and sanitation. Climate change also is going to stress inequalities, since those who suffer the most during environmental crisis are vulnerable populations. [IDN-InDepthNews – 29 October 2021]

Image credit: UNFCC | Web Pixabay





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