Participation & Governance

Uneasy bedfellows? Climate change, sustainable development and poverty eradication in 2015.

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2015 is set to be a big year, with plans for international commitments on climate change (through the UNFCCC) and poverty eradication and development (in the replacement of the Millennium Development Goals) to be agreed and signed. But not everyone agrees on how this should be done. Should climate change be kept out of the new development goals to reduce political wrangling and blocks, or are they inextricably linked?

2015 is going to be a big year. In 2011, the governments of the world agreed that it would be the year of the next attempt to sign a global deal on climate change. It’s also the year the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) run out. A global agreement on poverty - the MDGs were a set of 8 goals on income poverty - HIV/AIDS, maternal health, education, gender equality, environmental sustainability, and the global partnership.

And now it’s time for decisions to be made on what comes in the next framework, one big question is: should climate change be in the post-2015 development framework?

Let’s clear up two misconceptions about the MDGs. The first is that climate change was not included in the MDGs. This is incorrect. Under MDG 7 ‘Ensure environmental sustainability’, target B has an indicator on CO2 emissions, total, per capita and per $1 GDP (PPP).

The second misconception is that the MDGs place the onus for action entirely on the developing countries. That’s not true either but reflecting the balance of power within the UN, the goals with specific, measurable, time-bound targets were mainly for developing countries. The goals that depended on action from developed countries (MDG7 on environmental sustainability and MDG8 on a global partnership for development) are vague and lacking in results-based targets and measurable indicators.

Where does all this leave us now?

Some argue that poverty and climate change should remain separate, on the rationale that poverty is an easier ‘fix’ than the climate crisis and environmental sustainability. But if poverty is easier to solve, why then does half the world’s population live on less than $2.50 a day, 27% of all children in developing countries are estimated to be underweight or stunted. Climate change already brings increasingly numerous and severe weather events, food and water shortages, resulting job losses and changes in disease patterns - to name but a few - and these will only get worse as the full force of climate change is felt, largely in the developing world. Climate change, therefore, is the biggest threat to human development, both now and in the future.

Climate change and poverty are products of the same problem - a system that prioritizes material wealth and consumption over wellbeing and the planet. A system dictated by short-term political cycles rather than a long-term perspective that responds to the environment and the rights of future generations. A system where the powerful depend on the marginalization, alienation and impoverishment of others to amass wealth.

Yet in UN corridors, the worry that the ‘toxicity’ of the climate negotiations will spill over into the post-MDGs discussions. That shouldn’t be as much of a concern as the toxicity of the climate crisis - this is a time when the physical reality should trump the political one.

Glimmers of hope?

The MDG successor framework shouldn’t impinge on the UNFCCC’s remit - a legally-binding global climate treaty is essential - but if it incorporates climate, it would bring the environmental and development sectors closer together and signal to the world that addressing climate change is a global priority.

The post-2015 framework should use a ‘climate lens’ to make sure that it moves us towards a low-carbon world. The Sustainable Energy for All (SEFA) initiative is an interesting model, where a goal on universal energy access sits alongside goals on improved energy efficiency and increasing the ratio of renewables in the global energy mix.

Another thing to take from SEFA - the post-2015 agenda shouldn’t just be about action by low-income countries. Comparing the global landscape today with 20 years ago, it’s clear that the emerging economies have an increasing impact, both politically, socially and environmentally. If we want a strong framework, everyone has to be on board but the BRICS[1] aren’t going to do this without action from the global north. This means high income countries biting the bullet and committing to address the unsustainable patterns of production and consumption, skewed financial flows and governance loopholes that drive environmental degradation, poverty and climate change.

Despite early indication from Brazil that they were in favour of a ‘two-track’ approach, the majority of Member States, UN agencies, civil society and other development actors have recognised that this is the moment for an integrated, sustained movement towards poverty eradication and sustainable development - anything less will inevitably fail to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs[2].

[1] BRICS is an association of emerging economies; Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa


Featured Image Credit: Indigo Furniture