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Sustainable (Climate) Development Goals


In September 2015, the 193 member states of the United Nations formally adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)—a set of 17 aspirational global goals to be achieved by 2030. Call it an ambitious “to-do” list to tackle global challenges like poverty, health, and education. Goal 13, or SDG 13, calls for urgent action to combat climate change and its devastating effects, which the U.N. claims can already be felt in every nation on Earth. Let’s take a look at how SDG 13 came to be, and how it influences other sustainable development goals.

To understand the SDGs, we must first look at their predecessor, the Millennium Development Goals. Established in September 2000, the MDGs outlined eight target goals to be reached by 2015. Among those targets was ensuring environmental sustainability. But the MDGs became mired in controversy over how they were created, how targets are measured, and how the burden of change fell largely to Sub-Saharan African nations. As U.N. members discussed a new set of post-2015 goals, they took a more collaborative approach. An open working group, with representatives from 70 nations, worked for nearly two years to develop the SDGs and its 17 targets. Of note, the SDGs formally acknowledge the existence of climate change and the need for urgency to address it.

While addressing and combatting climate change is certainly a daunting task, the U.N. outlined a handful of targets within SDG 13 to focus the effort:

  • Strengthen our resilience and adaptability to climate-related natural disasters.
  • Integrate climate change measures into national policies.
  • Improve education on climate change mitigation, adaptation, and early warning.
  • Invest $100 billion annually, by the year 2020, toward addressing mitigation action in developing countries.
  • Improve effective climate change-related planning in least developed countries.

And the work has already begun. A U.N.-backed project in Mali provided a well that runs on solar energy. The sustainable water source helps villages irrigate crops despite more drought and shorter rainy seasons. In Bhutan, workers have created a system that tracks health data with meteorological changes. Climate change, including shrinking glaciers and water reservoirs, can lead to increased mosquito and sand fly populations. Those insects spread diseases like malaria and dengue fever. By tracking and comparing health and climate data, workers hope to create more advance warning for climate sensitive diseases. In Azerbaijan, near the Caspian Sea, workers are using satellite imaging technology to map out 3,000 hectares of land where farmers can graze their cattle. In some areas, overgrazing combined with climate change has created erosion and soil impoverishment, which leads to greater water runoff and landslides. Properly mapping and restoring those pastures mitigates the impact of climate change to that region.

Many projects intended to address climate change also impact other SDG targets. This is no surprise considering the impact of climate change is far reaching in a connected ecosystem. Poverty, hunger, health, access to clean water are all separate goals within the SDGs that we can address by focusing on climate change. As Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon declared when introducing the SDGs, there can be no Plan B for action because there is no Planet B.

Photo Credit: Kevin Gill via Flickr

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