The Lay Person’s Guide to the Paris Agreement and UN Sustainable Development Goals

The Lay Person’s Guide to the Paris Agreement and UN Sustainable Development Goals

The Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development or more commonly referred to as Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are two of the world’s most important multilateral agreements in recent times.

What is the Paris Agreement? 

The Paris Agreement, hailed as “historic, durable and ambitious,”1 is an affirmative global action in the fight against climate change. Signed by 197 countries, it aims to limit global warming to well below two degrees celsius and has an active clause to limit temperature increase to 1.5 degrees celsius.

Related Post: 14 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Climate Change, Global Warming and the Environment

The Lay Person's Guide to the Paris Agreement & UN Development Goals

In practical terms, the agreement requires countries to stop the release of greenhouse gases and the use of fossil fuels. They likewise need to take part in global climate actions by submitting their “intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs) and implement them by 2020.”2

The UN notes that what is important in the agreement is that plans submitted by countries are subject to regular assessments and reviews and they are liable to continuously upgrade their commitments and ensure that there is no backtracking.3

What are the Sustainable Development Goals?

The SDGs are composed of 17 goals, broken down into 169 workable targets covering a wide range of issues (from health, to innovation to gender equality, to human rights etc.) all with the aim of ending poverty “in all its forms and dimensions” by 2030 and bring development.4

poverty poor children un development goals

The SDGs build on the success of the Millennium Development Goals set in 2000, from cutting down poverty by half (MDGs), the goal is now to eliminate it (SDGs). While not legally binding, the SDGs were agreed upon for implementation by 193 countries to be “translated into national policies and actions”.5

SDGs and the Paris Agreement go hand-in-hand

For UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and other development experts, the Paris Agreement and the SDGs go together. And this is not simply because climate action is item number 13 on the SDGs or because there was a conscious effort to weave in the SDGs during the conference of world leaders in Paris.

According to Ban,“SDGs and climate change are indivisible because climate change undermines development gains.” In other words, in current times, countries can only achieve progress by being environmentally resilient. It is also vital to ensure that disaster risk reduction is always part of development efforts. With these agreements, countries are now in a better position to build a sustainable future for the world.

However, while coming up with the agreements can already be considered as important feats, the more difficult aspect is definitely implementation.

What’s next?

According to the World Resources Institute, the process of implementing the SDGs and the Paris Agreement, being transformative frameworks in themselves, require new mindsets.6

This means that there is a need to harmonize efforts to address climate and development goals.

For starters, climate change and development are historically different schools of thought that draw on different expertise and knowledge bases as well as rarely meet and collaborate. But the interlinkages between the SDGs and the Paris Agreement show that in order to properly respond to the challenges of the times, there should be a convergence in development and climate change solutions. Strategic, mutually-reinforcing solutions must be put in place as well as a unified political and economic narrative linked to national aspirations and realigned institutions.7

Of course, this is easier said than done. However, the fact that countries agreed on the SDGs and the Paris Agreement show that there is an acknowledgement of the reality that poverty and hunger as well as climate change are problems that need international cooperation and global efforts to solve.

The Lay Person's Guide to the Paris Agreement & UN Development Goals

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It is very significant to note that aside from the two agreements, 193 countries were able to agree on the landmark Addis Ababa Action Agenda which provides for financing sustainable development. The financial agreement “addresses all sources of finance, and covers cooperation on a range of issues including technology, science, innovation, trade and capacity building.”8

“This historic agreement marks a turning point in international cooperation that will result in the necessary investments for the new and transformative sustainable development agenda that will improve the lives of people everywhere,” Wu Hongbo, Secretary-General of the Third International Conference said.9

It is also useful to note that governments, private sectors, non-government institutions and even small businesses have already started to contribute to the ‘Paris effect,’ referring to actions which are aligned to the Paris Agreement. The United States has put a stop to new coal mining leases on public lands; Vietnam made a policy declaration that it will now be phasing out coal and China has suspended the construction of new coal plants for the next three years. Meanwhile, J.P. Morgan has also announced that it will no longer finance coal mines the world over due to the threat of climate change.10

These are positive signals that governments and institutions are indeed serious in responding to the challenges of sustainable development and climate change. As the implementation phase rolls from 2015 to 2020 and 2030, it is vital to learn from best practices; enhance partnerships of all stakeholders from small businesses to civil societies to communities and government institutions to inter and intra governmental relations; and create and strengthen expert and institutional networks.

Show 10 footnotes

  1. Harvey, Fiona. “Paris climate change agreement: the world’s greatest diplomatic success.” 14 December 2015.

  2. European Commission. “Questions and answers on the Paris Agreement.”

  3. United Nations. “The Paris Agreement: FAQs.” 12 December 2015.

  4. Thomson, Stephanie. “What are the Sustainable Development Goals?”. 16 September 2015.

  5. Waskow, David quoted in “Governments, Stakeholders Discuss Alignment of SDGs and Paris Agreement.”

  6. Horn-Phathanothai, Leo. “Bridging development goals and climate action.”

  7. Ibid.

  8. United Nations. “Countries reach historic agreement to generate financing for new sustainable development agenda.”

  9. Ibid.

  10. Climate Nexus. “The Paris Effect: How the Paris Agreement is Driving Climate Action.”

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