INSIDER: Five Ways the SDGs Can Make Long-Term Climate Strategies More Effective

The Paris Agreement calls for countries to develop long-term low greenhouse gas emission development strategies (LTS). But these shouldn't be conceived simply as decarbonization plans to be written mainly by climate experts. Rather, they are important opportunities for engaging citizens in a broad debate on how to achieve a low-carbon, climate-resilient, sustainable and equitable future for their countries. In the words of one expert, Monica Araya, effective LTS development will not just require a story about greenhouse gases—it will require a vision about who we are as a society, and the kind of future we want.

One way to do that: link LTS with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This can help countries develop more comprehensive LTS that will prioritize win-wins for climate and the society. Addressing SDGs in LTS can make a more effective case for decarbonization and inspire a larger coalition of actors who support the LTS and its implementation.

This is the key message coming out of the expert perspectives on "Integrating Sustainable Development in Long-Term Strategies," commissioned by the World Resources Institute and UN Development Programme. The authors of the perspectives, who represent a wide range of experiences and expertise, offer five considerations when addressing SDGs in formulating long-term strategies:

Make People Part of the Long-term Climate Transition: Build on the Momentum around the SDGs

Who should own a country's long-term transition? Monica Araya, founder and Director of Costa Rica Limpia, invites governments to ask themselves this question and makes the case that the success of long-term plans hinges on increasing citizen ownership of climate transition. Options for shifting the economy towards carbon neutral, climate-resilient and sustainable development should not be mapped solely by climate experts and ministries of environment, who have limited influence on national policy planning. Instead, LTS should be discussed through inclusive and transparent processes including a multitude of stakeholders and citizens. This is the only way to build broad coalitions that can support critical reforms when incumbents and vested interests try to derail or water them down, and sustain action over time through changes in administration.

Elizabeth Stuart, Head of Program, Growth, Poverty, Inequality, at the Overseas Development Institute, suggests in her essay, " Leaving No One Behind in Sustainable Pathways," that LTS could be spearheaded by national coordinators with competencies cutting across line ministries, such as in offices of the Presidency or Cabinet, or planning ministries, which typically oversee national SDG implementation.

Leveraging the momentum around the SDGs can also help engage a much wider range of stakeholders and support a low-carbon transition that triggers popular socio-economic opportunities. The SDGs inspire a sense of opportunity and are gaining traction from the private sector. Araya gives the example of Costa Rica's "national pact" for the SDGs which has gathered a large coalition of actors, including executive, legislative and judiciary powers, CEOs of big companies as well as young entrepreneurs, urban collectives, journalists, open-data activists and academia.

Leave No One Behind in the Low-Carbon Transition

Addressing the SDGs in LTS will also help plan for a just and equitable transition. The pledge of "Leaving No One Behind," which is at the core of the 2030 Agenda, has major implications on the ways climate actions are defined and prioritized, notes Stuart. It underpins the objectives of ending extreme poverty in all its forms, stopping group-based discrimination and curbing inequalities by 2030. It also requires prioritizing the poorest and most marginalized so that they progress at a higher rate than those better off.

When integrated with climate action, this pledge implies that LTS should front-load and fast-track transformative policies and actions that will have the most impact for those left behind. This could include assessing the distributional impacts of climate policies through poverty and social impact analysis, as well as including marginalized groups in decision-making on adaptation and mitigation options.

Promote Win-Win Actions for Climate and the SDGs

Win-wins for climate and socioeconomic development should be at the core of the LTS. Red Constantino, executive director at Climate and Sustainable Cities, provides a concrete example of such win-wins for the Philippines in his forthcoming Expert Perspective, "Start Today with Urgent Reforms and Higher Ambition." He underscores that "the key is not to advance an early transition because of the need for compliance with the Paris Agreement but because it makes economic sense." For instance, expanding renewable energies in small island grids can save the Philippines at least $200 million a year and lower electricity tariffs, which are among the highest in South Asia while the country has one of the lowest per-capita levels of electricity consumption.

Investment opportunities in renewables in small islands off the coast of Indonesia could run to $1 billion, according to the author's estimate. Prioritization of early energy transition could attract new investments in growing industries, create jobs, enhance energy security while reducing environmental pollution and impacts on human health. All those benefits will accelerate progress towards both the Paris Agreement goals and the SDGs.

Increase Opportunities for Least-Developed Countries

LTS are critical opportunities for all countries to plan for the necessary transitions to meet the Paris Agreement goals and SDGs, especially for the world's largest emitters to chart the course forward to decarbonize. However, LTS have several benefits for least developed countries (LDCs) as well. In their forthcoming essay, "Low Carbon Futures in Least Developed Countries (LDCs)", Feisal Rahman, Meraz Mostafa, and Saleemul Huq from the International Center for Climate Change and Development assert that LTS are essential instruments for LDCs not only to survive the climate crisis but also to harness the development opportunities of the climate-smart transition. With LTS, LDCs can seize economic opportunities and leapfrog investments in low-carbon technologies to avoid costly transitions from fossil fuels. Low-carbon options promoted by developed countries may also be "export-friendly" for LDCs and improve market access.

If they plan their transition now, LDCs can also pioneer low-carbon research and benefit from property rights and enhanced competitiveness. The authors highlight key development benefits of low-carbon options for LDCs such as the electricity access that off-grid renewables can provide to the 55.2 percent from LDCs still deprived from this basic service.

Use Integrated Planning Tools

Hans Herren, director of the Millennium Institute, explains how a modelling tool addressing climate actions and the SDGs in integrated way, such as the iSDG model, can help countries in "Addressing Climate-Sustainable Development Linkages in Long-Term Low-Carbon Strategies" Built upon the time-tested Threshold 21 model, the iSDG model enables users to capture in a single framework economic, social and environmental aspects of development and their interactions across 30 sectors, with geographically and socially disaggregated indicators. iSDG also shows climate change impacts on all sectors, considering the evolution of temperatures, yearly precipitations, frequency and intensity of weather events, and effects on biodiversity. In comparing business-as-usual and alternative scenarios, users can quantify and leverage synergies between climate mitigation, adaptation and policies for the SDGs.

The clock is ticking for countries to move away from business-as-usual decision making and put their economy on track to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement and the SDGs. An approach to long-term planning that integrates broader sustainable development challenges and poverty reduction with climate action is essential to designing optimal national pathways that inform today's policy and technological choices and help move forward the goals of climate resilience, carbon neutrality, social inclusion, economic development and ecosystem preservation in synergy.

Linking the SDG and LTS agendas will be the focus of an informal breakfast event organized by WRI, UN Development, the Oversees Development Institute (ODI) and the NDC Partnership, together with the government of New Zealand in the margins of the upcoming High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) for Sustainable Development in New York July 9-18th. For more information, contact Mathilde Bouyé.