The SDGs and climate change: a chance to join the dots

Ana Toni

2015 is a key year for the climate and development community worldwide. The process of defining the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) will hopefully culminate in a new set of development principles and targets that governments will commit themselves to pursue by the end of this year. While the two processes are separate, it is clear that both have a single objective: to try to influence our future ‘development’ model in a way that is fairer and more sustainable. Moreover, the failure of one of these forums will totally compromise the other.

The Millennium Development Goals were drafted mainly with a view to addressing the economic and social aspects of poverty. Today, the SDGs poverty goal (Goal 1: ‘End poverty in all forms everywhere’) cannot disregard the poor’s high levels of climate vulnerability. Climate migrants, growing conflicts over water, and the impact of climate on agriculture are already a reality. If unheeded, they may drag back into poverty the millions who have escaped it in the last decade. In short, although it is a much more complex challenge for policymakers, they can no longer consider climate change in isolation from other development challenges such as poverty or lack of sanitation. That is why at least 10 of the 17 SDGs and targets have an intrinsic climate element.

While the approach to sanitation and water supply infrastructure in the least developed countries (LDCs) used to be focused on financing constraints and how to universalize access to public goods, the incorporation of a climate perspective in Goal 9 (‘Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation’) means that providing access is no longer enough. Addressing the climate risk of water scarcity and incorporating efficiency in the use of natural resources is a fundamental concern that policymakers will have to address when developing solutions to infrastructure problems.

There are clear opportunities for both climate and SDG international agendas to support and feed off one another. In fostering more resilient and sustainable cities (Goal 11), the SDG framework endorses the need to develop adaptation initiatives within the UNFCCC process. By demanding that governments ensure access to sustainable and modern energy (Goal 7), the development community underlines the call of climate leaders for more ambitious commitments to reduce carbon emissions from energy sources.

These are just two examples of how the SDGs may help to push the development community and policymakers to recognize the intertwined nature of development targets and climate change concerns. Moving from an understanding of the new environmental challenges and actually incorporating a climate dimension into the policymaking process is probably one of the biggest challenges facing all governments, from the wealthiest to the least developed country, while failure to do so may well undermine the sustainability of development goals.

The role of philanthropy
The philanthropic sector has a crucial role to play in helping to put climate change at the centre of the debate on sustainable development. We have noted the evident synergies between the SDGs and climate negotiation processes, but transmitting the message about their intimate connection is fundamental to driving global action. The philanthropic sector can help transmit this message by supporting initiatives and civil society organizations that can connect the dots and design solutions. 

‘If the world wants truly sustainable development goals, it is vital to frame the challenges and solutions in strategies that embrace climate change risks.’

It can also look for innovative ways to incorporate climate change into its sectoral theories of change. How might climate risks undermine efforts to guarantee human rights protection? What impact might a transition to a low carbon economy have on labour markets? Building partnerships among philanthropic institutions from different areas of expertise (health, education, environment, human rights, etc) may help elucidate these and other questions that are key to designing strategies for a sustainable future. In building such partnerships, philanthropy could offer governments a model for how to bring together climate change and development concerns.

If the world wants truly sustainable development goals, it is vital to frame the challenges and solutions in strategies that embrace climate change risks. Development and climate change are not problems for future generations to solve; they are the challenge and the responsibility of the present generation.

Ana Toni is CEO of GIP – Public Interest Management, Research and Consultancy, Brazil. Email

For more discussion on the SDG debate, listen to our Alliance Audio podcast.

Comments (1)

Nelson T. Enojo

Dear An, As an ordinary individual, I also tried to pledge commitment. But, I'm not good enough.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Next Analysis to read

Why we need a standalone SDG for women and girls

Musimbi Kanyoro