Wide-Ranging Report Says Climate Change Threatens Sustainable Development Goals

July 18, 2019

A report recently released by the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) makes very clear that the impacts of climate change and increasing inequality across and within countries are undermining progress toward attaining the United Nation’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a blueprint for a fairer and healthier planet.

Operating since 2012, SDSN mobilizes global scientific and technological expertise to promote practical solutions for sustainable development, including the SDGs and the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement.

The latest SDSN report says that unchecked climate change is critical among factors that threaten to reverse many of the gains made over the last decade that have improved people’s lives.

The SDGs, which were adopted by UN member states in 2015 for attainment by 2030, represent an urgent call for action by all countries – developed and developing – in a global partnership. In adopting the goals, member nations recognized that ending poverty and other deprivations must go hand-in-hand with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth, all while tackling climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests.

The latest report updating progress toward achieving the SDGs does acknowledge improvements in some areas, such as reducing extreme poverty, widely broadening immunizations, decreasing child mortality rates and increasing access to electricity.

But the report also warns that the global response has not been ambitious enough, leaving the most vulnerable people and countries to suffer the most.

Based on the latest available data, the report says that last year was the fourth warmest year on record. Levels of carbon dioxide concentrations continued to increase in 2018, sending ocean acidity 26 percent higher than in pre-industrial times (1881-1910) and, given the current rate of carbon emissions, is projected to increase by 100-150 percent by the end of the century.

Even the good news is tempered by a worrisome forecast, with the report noting that while the number of people in the world living in extreme poverty declined from 36 percent in 1990 to 8.6 percent last year, the pace of poverty reduction is starting to decelerate. The world is struggling to respond to increasing natural disasters, many attributable to a changing climate that can aggravate already entrenched deprivation and spark violent conflicts.

To avoid the worst in catastrophic weather conditions, the Paris Climate Agreement calls for holding any increase in global temperature averages “well below” 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial-age levels by 2100. A 1.5-degree limit offered as a goal has taken a hit with the disclosure in a number of studies done in the past two years showing average temperatures have risen by at least 1 degree in recent decades, and a major study published in the journal Nature this month asserting that the world is on track to blow by the 1.5-degree mark by the mid-2030s.

The SDSN report and global temperature studies give enormous weight to the warnings from officials like UN Secretary-General António Guterres, who has said that a “much deeper, faster and more ambitious response” is needed from all parties – including the agriculture sector – to address climate change and achieve the sustainable development goals.

The warnings underscore the importance of efforts by Solutions from the Land to promote the principles of climate smart agriculture not only in the United States, but around the world. Through the North America Climate Smart Agriculture Alliance (NACSAA), SfL has been actively participating in UN global climate talks over the past two years to bring the voice of North American producers and land managers to the discussion table.

NACSAA provides platforms for engagement, dialogue, knowledge sharing and the application of climate science to the agriculture and forestry sectors. It is helping farmers, ranchers and forestland owners take steps that will help unleash the social and economic transformation needed to achieve the 2030 goals while improving the viability of agricultural systems now and in the future.

SfL and NACSAA stand ready to play a significant part in developing plans that address a changing climate. But as noted in the SDSN report, political leaders must commit to those programs like climate smart agriculture with policies and funding that can produce the far more ambitious plans and accelerated action that is needed for climate mitigation and adaptation.

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