(Article originally published here)
On September 25, at the UN General Assembly in New York, government leaders will agree to “take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts” as they sign on to the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) — setting the global-development agenda for the next 15 years. It is good to see that climate action and renewable energy have their own distinct goals and that references to tackling climate change run through most of the 17 goals like a green thread.
We can’t deliver sustainable development without taking urgent action to tackle climate change and supporting the communities already suffering from its impacts. By signing off on the SDGs, world leaders are acknowledging this and people around the world will be watching closely as they approach their first real test of resolve — the UN climate negotiations in Paris this December.
Out in the real world, climate impacts are hitting hard and taking a massive toll on vulnerable communities already beset by poverty and inequality. Just last month Hurricane Erika slammed into Dominica, killing 31 people, setting back development by 20 years and leaving the nation with damages valued at $228 million — we know that climate-induced sea level rise is making mega-storms like this more dangerous. The refugee crisis unfolding right now across the Middle East and Europe has its roots in social unrest that was compounded by an unprecedented drought that struck the Syrian region from 2006 to 2011, a drought that cannot be explained without taking climate change into account.
Governments know the reality, they have signed off on the agreed climate science, and they know that we require rapid cuts in carbon emissions to limit dangerous climate impacts and boost development. Many countries are now acknowledging this more openly than they have in the past. For instance, President Obama recently visited Alaska, where he acknowledged that our influence on the climate is now having visible effects on fragile regions, while Secretary John Kerry warned that several Inuit communities face becoming “climate refugees” as they gradually lose their lands to the sea.
We are seeing more and more countries submit national climate-action plans ahead of the UN negotiations in Paris, but at present, these proposals will not deliver enough action to limit global warming below 2 degrees celsius (let alone the recommended 1.5 degrees) above pre-industrial levels. Fortunately people, businesses and institutions around the world aren’t waiting for our governments — they are taking the lead.
There is unprecedented momentum building behind the call for urgent climate action. Through the historic Islamic Climate Declaration and Papal Encyclical, we have religious authorities impressing the moral case for phasing out fossil fuels and tackling inequality upon billions of Muslims and Christians around the world. We have cities like Vancouver, Kasese and Sydney setting the bar high by pledging to go 100 percent renewable — at the same time others are pulling their money out of fossil fuels, most recently the U.S. state legislature of California and the world’s busiest coal port in Newcastle, Australia. We have local champions in countries like India, Bangladesh and Indonesia helping to roll out renewable energy in rural areas to provide energy access and boost the standard of living in ways impossible through major, centralized coal expansion.
The SDGs will lay out the development framework for the next 15 years; in a similar way, the new global-climate agreement due to be forged in Paris is expected to create an international framework for the deep decarbonization of our economies and the just transition to a world powered by 100 percent renewable energy, where no-one is left behind.
In Paris, governments can start delivering on their newly enshrined development goals by constructing an agreement that signals the end of the fossil-fuel age, supports vulnerable communities affected by increasing drought, flooding and sea-level rise, and creates a framework that brings countries back to the table to boost their actions every five years.
Written by: Dr. Saleemul Huq, Director, ICCCAD