Writing Prompt: Integrating Broader Sustainable Development Considerations in Long-term Strategies

The Paris Agreement embeds climate action in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty (Article 2.1) while mentioning key challenges such as ensuring food security and ending hunger, and advancing sustainable lifestyles and sustainable patterns of consumption and production (preamble), and sustainable forest management (Article 5). These provisions involve considering the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development adopted in September 2015 when planning the long-term low carbon development strategies (Article 4.19). The purpose of Agenda 2030 is to build sustainable, resilient and inclusive societies by 2030. Its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) foster major shifts in all economies to curb inequalities, sustainably manage ecosystems, and build sustainable production, consumption and transportation systems. Climate action has its own goal (SDG 13) and is mainstreamed through all the other SDGs.  

There is wide recognition that climate change actions and broader progress towards sustainable development are interdependent and mutually reinforcing. Climate change acts as a “threat-multiplier” that put human lives and economies at risk and exacerbates key drivers of poverty and inequalities. It will fundamentally undermine human development prospects if it reaches catastrophic levels. Similarly, climate mitigation and resilience cannot progress in a context of unsustainable production and consumption patterns, environmental degradation and widespread inequalities. As underscored by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, “differences in vulnerability and exposure arise from non-climatic factors and from multidimensional inequalities often produced by uneven development processes” (Fifth assessment report, part 1.5). If policies are designed well, climate action can provide significant opportunities for advancing broader sustainable development objectives. For instance, the use of renewable energy can provide greater energy access, especially to poor populations in rural areas. Forest and landscape restoration is often a critical tool not only to reduce carbon emissions but also to protect watersheds, enhance soil productivity, and provide buffers to extreme weather events. Well-designed policies in many areas of climate action can be a positive force for employment opportunities and greater economic and gender equity.

This integrated approach can have critical implications for preparing the long-term strategies:

  1. Long-term strategies could provide a high-level vision of where the country should stand by 2050 with respect to an overall transition toward a low-carbon, sustainable development pathway fostered by the SDGs and the Paris Agreement.
  2. Long-term strategies could be conceived as sustainable development strategies that put countries on track to achieve both the SDGs, ideally by 2030, and climate objectives in a synergistic way over time. Indeed, 2050 goals will help in planning and policy making through backcasting to avoid lock-in to unsustainable development paths. Targets can be set to make continuous sustainable development progress and keep the most vulnerable out of poverty despite climate change’s likely greater impact in the coming decades. With this purpose, members of the Climate Vulnerable Forum committed at COP22 in the Marrakesh declaration to “plot a clear path to the future” in “preparing mid-century, long-term low GHG development strategies before 2020, connecting [their] short, medium and long-term development pathways as [they] strive to limit to the maximum the increase in warming (…), attaining maximal resilience, while endeavoring to achieve or exceed the Sustainable Development Goals.” Some existing long-term strategies showed the way in this regard, such as Mexico’s strategy stressing that the transformations required to a low-carbon economy also address “national priorities of sustainable and more inclusive development.”
  3. To define a path that will deliver low-carbon, sustainable, and resilient development, long-term strategies need to be designed based on scenarios considering key interactions between climate and top national sustainable development challenges, such as water scarcity, food security, employment opportunities, and economic and gender equity. In other words, long-term strategies would need to encompass both mitigation and adaptation issues. The evolution of water availability in the context of climate change, for instance, can have massive implications for a national low-carbon energy strategy that would rely on hydropower plants and/or bio-energy. Similarly, the reduction of agricultural land due to changes in precipitation patterns will significantly impact national food security and potentially lead to carbon intensive options, such as increased imports or deforestation. Capturing the complexity of these feedback loops between climate and sustainable development challenges is essential for avoiding trade-offs and locking-in unsustainable investments. This work will certainly have to consider the impact of short-termism and the absence of adequate responses to potential trade-offs.
  4. Inclusive engagement frameworks involving actors across governments and expert communities will be critical to develop a multi-sector, integrated planning approach to long-term strategies.

In this paper series, we are soliciting expert perspectives on:

How long-term low-carbon strategies can integrate broader sustainable development considerations?

In your response, please consider some or all the following questions:

  • How can long-term low-carbon strategies most effectively integrate broader sustainable development considerations, both for mitigation and adaptation?
  • How to craft an overall vision for the country’s low-carbon, sustainable and equitable future owned by a large group of constituencies in the framework of the preparation of the long-term strategies?
  • How to engage stakeholders across the government and expert communities to develop a cross-sectoral, integrated approach to long-term planning for climate mitigation and adaptation?
  • How can countries identify the key sustainable development challenges in defining decarbonization and resilience pathways? Should they explicitly refer to the SDGs?
  • Whether and how to use quantitative and/or qualitative approaches to assessing sustainable development benefits and impacts in long-term strategies?
  • How to design long-term targets that deliver both strong GHG emission reduction and substantial sustainable development benefits? How to avoid or manage trade-offs?
  • How to balance the objective of addressing broader sustainable development efforts with the benefits of concise and focused low emissions strategies?