Linking SDGs and COP21

Taylor picTaylor Smith ’14, member of the VLS COP19 delegation, now works for the U.N. and contributed this post connecting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with the COP21 negotiations.

“Any true sustainable development must address the scourge of climate change,” UN DESA’s Under-Secretary-General Mr. Wu Hongbo said just weeks before the UN Climate Change Conference (COP21) opened in Paris on 30 November. The relationship between climate change and development are clear, with climate change aggravating already existing threats to people and the planet. This is also why so many of the newly adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have targets linked to climate.

I was a member of the VLS COP19 observer delegation in Warsaw, Poland and also a Master of Environmental Law and Policy student 2014. I now work as a Sustainable Energy Consultant at United Nations Headquarters in New York. I am located in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Division for Sustainable Development- Water, Energy, and Capacity Development Branch (yeah, it’s a mouthful).

2030 agendaA good portion of my daily work focuses on follow-up tasks related to the post-2015 development agenda, also known as the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Here is a little background information for you dedicated readers:

In September 2015, Member States adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, as a direct follow-up to the outcome of the Rio+20 Conference in 2012 when Member States committed to reinvigorating the global partnership for sustainable development and to working together with major groups and other stakeholders in addressing implementation gaps. The 2030 Agenda includes 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 accompanying targets. Among other thematic areas, Member States identified energy as one of the priorities.

Sustainable energy is a key enabler of sustainable development for all countries and all people. Countries will not be able to achieve their development goals without access to reliable and affordable sustainable energy services. Energy is critical to tackling poverty eradication, while decarbonizing energy is central to mitigating climate change. Energy powers opportunities. It transforms lives, economies and countries.

As a result of the key role that energy plays in sustainable development, a stand-alone goal for energy now exists: Energy SDG 7 is to “Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all”. Goal 7 contains five targets, two of which are means of implementation. SG7

Target 7.1

By 2030, ensure universal access to affordable, reliable and modern energy services

Target 7.2

By 2030, increase substantially the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix

Target 7.3

By 2030, double the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency

Target 7.a (Means of Implementation)

By 2030, enhance international cooperation to facilitate access to clean energy research and technology, including renewable energy, energy efficiency and advanced and cleaner fossil-fuel technology, and promote investment in energy infrastructure and clean energy technology

Target 7.b (Means of Implementation)

By 2030, expand infrastructure and upgrade technology for supplying modern and sustainable energy services for all in developing countries, in particular least developed countries, small-island developing States and landlocked developing countries, in accordance with their respective programmes of support.

As you can see, it’s fairly straightforward how the targets of the Energy SDG 7 align with the UNFCCC in many ways. In fact, there are so many parallels that Resolution 70/1 (Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development) of the General Assembly explicitly acknowledges that the United Nations Convention on Climate Change is the primary international, intergovernmental forum for negotiating the global response to climate change.

What I notice as the primary difference between UNFCCC objectives and Energy SDG 7 is that the first is primarily concerned with carbon reductions while the latter has an emphasis on energy for sustainable development. 1.2 billion people worldwide still lack access to modern energy services. Think about that while our world leaders negotiate a low-carbon pathway to the future! *mind blown*

all SDGsEven though climate change is often portrayed as an environmental problem, it is also an economic and political issue. In my field of work, sustainable energy development is about reconciling the basic human right of access to energy services (for hospitals, schools, and clean cooking technologies etc.) with the need for rapid increase in renewable energy production and consumption to combat anthropogenic climate change.

For the first time in over 20 years of UN negotiations, the conference aims to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate. The goal is to keep global warming well below 2°C. I hope that implementation of the COP21 outcome is ambitious enough to provide greater motivation for clean energy development and distributed renewable energy in my field of energy for sustainable development in low-income countries.