Critical thinking, integrated analysis and awareness raising on Sustainable Development Goals and a post-2015 development agenda

5 propositions for tackling climate change in the post-2015 development agenda

Tue, 2014-01-21 13:22
Andrew Scott

Research Fellow in the Climate and Environment Programme at the Overseas Development Institute.


Leo Horn-PhathanothaiLeo Horn-Phathanothai
Director for International Cooperation at the World Resources Institute.

The deliberations during the seventh session of the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals, on 6-10 January, indicated a strong consensus that climate change should be integral to the post-2015 development framework. 

Girl stands in flood water. Photo: Flickr/ (Creative Commons

This marks an important turning point in international development: historically, climate change and development have been addressed through separate tracks in the UN system. The real question therefore is no longer if, but how to include climate change in the post-2015 development framework.

It is straightforward to see why a strong consensus on addressing climate change in the post-2015 development agenda has emerged. Presentations to the OWG by two IRF members, World Resources Institute and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, help explain the huge overlaps between the converging climate change and development agendas, which can best be seen as two sides of the sustainable development coin.

Climate affects development affects climate

Climate change will determine whether the levels of development progress that have already been achieved can be sustained, as well as whether post-2015 development goals can be achieved. The poor are disproportionately affected by the impacts of climate change, and action to address climate change can have profound implications for development choices and outcomes. Simply put, development objectives will not be achieved unless the post-2015 framework is climate and future-fit.

Similarly, the achievement of global climate change objectives – including keeping the average global temperature rise below 2°C – will depend on development decisions taken across sectors and in all countries.

Although there’s already an international process in place to address climate change – under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – which needs to reach an agreement in 2015, the new climate deal will only take effect in 2020, by which time significant action will already have to have been taken to stay within 2 degrees. We don’t have a fighting chance of achieving climate goals without development goals that start guiding countries down a climate-smart track.

Five ways forward

A number of proposals on how to include climate change in the post-2015 development agenda have been put forward (see for example Options for Integrating Climate Change Considerations into the post-2015 Development Framework). Building on these, we distil five core propositions for incorporating climate change into the post-2015 framework.

  • First, is the need to agree the core principles guiding the 'how'. Most of these are set out in the Future We Want, agreed at Rio, but two deserve emphasis: (1) the need for collective action to avoid dangerous climate change – the brutal maths mean that all countries have to pitch in, which was agreed in 2011 at the Durban COP of the UNFCCC, but needs reiterating. (2) putting equity at the core of how we take collective action, embedded in the principle of CBDR (common but differentiated responsibilities).The UN General Assembly has said CBDR should be part of the post-2015 development agenda, but what this means for all goals needs to be defined.
  • Second, ensure at the goal level we capture the key areas of intervention critical to delivering concurrently on development and climate objectives. Deliberations to date indicate a high level of agreement on including goals in the highly-climate relevant areas of water, forests, disaster, energy, governance, and food and agriculture. These and the other goals must be climate-smart.
  • Third, make the post-2015 targets climate-smart – i.e. targets that build resilience and adaptation, promote low-carbon development pathways, and deliver irreversible development progress. But mainstreaming climate change won’t be enough. Targets will also be needed that build capacity for adaptation and risk reduction, that drive integration between development and climate planning and strategies, and that move towards universal access to climate information.
  • Fourth, have means of implementation that foster policy coherence, encourage synergies and win-win solutions and engage multiple stakeholders in a global partnership for sustainable development. Greater coherence in the objectives of financing for development and climate change finance will also be required, along with more joined-up approaches across governments.
  • Fifth, avoid confusion and inconsistency with the UNFCCC process. Climate change targets in the post-2015 development agenda need to be consistent with, and at least as ambitious as, the objectives agreed under the UNFCCC. As well as consistency in objectives, the post-2015 framework and the UNFCCC need to share a vision of sustainable development, which could be achieved if those involved in the different processes have opportunities to come together during their drafting and negotiation stages.

Next year’s major milestones for international policy on climate change, disaster risk reduction, development and financing for development, present a once in a generation opportunity to shape more holistic, coherent and mutually supportive international processes in support of sustainable development. Integrating climate change into the post-2015 development agenda is essential if this unique opportunity is to be taken.


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