• Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Climate change and sustainable development- 2015 and beyond

Saleemul Huq
Photo: Anurup Kanti Das
Photo: Anurup Kanti Das

The year 2015 is going to be a significant year globally for two major reasons.
Firstly, the United Nations General Assembly to be held in New York in September 2015 will decide the succession to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which expire in 2015 and is expected to agree to a new set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) beyond 2015 (possibly to 2030).
Secondly, the twenty-first conference of parties (COP21) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) will be held in December 2015 in Paris, France where it is expected that a successor to the Kyoto Protocol will be agreed.
Both these issues are intimately linked to each other in terms of their substance but are not necessarily linked in terms of the process being followed to achieve them. Thus for example the MDG/SDG discussions take place in at the United Nations in New York where countries are represented by their Permanent Representative to the UN, while the climate change negotiations take place under the UNFCCC where countries are represented by the climate change negotiators. Very rarely is the climate change negotiator from the same country linked to their Permanent Representative in New York.
Thus much of the discussions around these two important sets of discussions are taking place in parallel both nationally as well as globally.
I will argue below that the two issue are intimately linked and that each country should look at them together in their context of a country's sustainable development pathways and goals and that the  discussions at the global level also need to reflect the bottom-up country-driven arguments rather than (as at present) a very top-down process.

MDGs/SDGs:
Let me start with the MDG/SDG discussions, which are already well under way with a series of workshops on different aspects under the UN's Open Working Group that meets regularly at the UN headquarters in New York. These will come together at the UN General Assembly to be held in September 2014 where a decision is expected on which of eight MDGs are likely to be taken forward towards the new set of post-2015 SDGs. There are number of debates and arguments being made on different aspects of the MDGs and future SDGs. One important argument is whether the MDGs should be continued (as the goals have not been met yet) or changed after 2015? Another aspect of shifting from MDGs to SDGS is that the former targeted the developing countries only while the latter include all countries including the rich. Another major argument is whether or not climate change should (or should not) be included in the new SDGs?

Climate Change:
On the climate change front there are a series of important meetings that will take place on the way to Paris in December 2015. The first one is a Climate Change Summit called by the UN's Secretary General Ban Ki Moon in New York in September 2014 where he has invited the world leaders to come to discuss the critical aspect of funding climate change globally. The rich countries have promised the poorer countries up to 100 Billion US Dollar a year from 2020 to tackle climate change but have not said how they will provide this funding. The UN Secretary General is trying to get the rich countries to provide their answers in New York at his summit in September this year.
The second milestone on the way to Paris in 2015 is the twentieth conference of parties (COP20) of the UNFCCC to be held in December 2014 in Lima, Peru where it is expected that the major greenhouse gas emitting countries will come with positive offers to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases that cause climate change. This will pave the way to a successful outcome in Paris in December 2015.

Inter-linkages between SDGs and Climate Change:
Although both these sets of discussions are taking place in parallel, there is a great deal of synergy between them, especially at the national level.
If a country wishes to meet its sustainable development goals it has to do so by tackling climate change as well. The one cannot be done without the other. Thus at the country level the sustainable development pathway over the coming decades is a low-carbon-climate-resilient pathway (sometimes also referred to as Green Development pathways) and many countries are beginning to develop such nationally driven goals and pathways.
The correct way in which the global goal on SDGS and decisions on climate change should be driven are therefore from a country-led, bottom-up approach from all countries (both rich as well as poor) striving for sustainable development pathways that tackle climate change at the same time at the national level.

Role of Bangladesh and Least developed countries:
Bangladesh has been taking an active part in both sets of discussions both at national as well as global level where it takes part as one of the Least Developed Countries (LDCs). This group has a very important role to play in both sets of discussions as they are poorest countries (important for MDGs/SDGs) and also the most vulnerable to adverse impacts of climate change (in the climate change context).
While the voice of the LDC Group has become much stronger in the UNFCCC process over the years(towards which Bangladesh has made a significant contribution) in the SDGs discussions the LDC Group seem to less well organised.
It is important that the LDC Group get its act together (which Bangladesh can help them do) in the SDG discussions and find ways to link the two debates together(at least at the national level) as they are both equally important to the fate of the LDCs, including Bangladesh.

Conclusion:
The next two years up to the end of 2015 will be critical in getting global agreement towards either a genuinely sustainable future or else a failure to address the most important issues of this era. Much of the success or failure will depend on how the LDCs (including Bangladesh) are able (or not) to assert their voices and make their arguments not only heard, but actually prevail.

The writer is Director, International Centre for Climate Change and Development, Independent University, Bangladesh and Senior Fellow at the International Institute for Environment and Development in London.

Published: 12:00 am Monday, March 17, 2014

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