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Climate change and the SDGs

New report reveals how climate change undermines nearly all sustainable development goals
Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod
Hand of people wating for a drip of water from a faucet at desert

At the half-time point of the 2030 Agenda, the science is clear – the planet is far off track from meeting its climate goals.

This undermines global efforts to tackle hunger, poverty and ill health, improve access to clean water and energy and many other aspects of sustainable development, according to a new multi-agency report coordinated by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

‘Climate change is here’

Only 15% of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are on track, says the United in Science report, which makes a systematic examination of the impact of climate change and extreme weather on the goals.

It illustrates how weather, climate and water-related sciences can advance aims such as food and water security, clean energy, better health, sustainable oceans and resilient cities. 
The annual report combines input and expertise from 18 organisations. It is issued ahead of the SDG Summit and Climate Ambition Summit at the United Nations General Assembly.

‘2023 has shown all too clearly that climate change is here. Record temperatures are scorching the land and heating the sea, as extreme weather causes havoc around the globe. While we know this is just the beginning, the global response is falling far short. Meanwhile, halfway to the 2030 deadline for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the world is woefully off-track.’

UN secretary-general

Early Warnings for All

The report shows, for example, how weather predictions help boost food production and move closer to zero hunger.

Integrating epidemiology and climate information helps understand and anticipate those diseases sensitive to climate, while early-warning systems help to reduce poverty by giving people the chance to prepare and limit the impact.

‘At this pivotal moment in history, the halfway mark to achieving the SDGs, the science community stands united in the effort to achieve prosperity for people and the planet.

‘Groundbreaking scientific and technological advances, such as high-resolution climate modelling, artificial intelligence and nowcasting, can catalyse transformation to achieve the SDGs. And achieving Early Warnings for All by 2027 will not only save lives and livelihoods but also help safeguard sustainable development.’

WMO secretary-general

Keeping 1.5 alive

The need for science and solutions is more urgent than ever. 
Between 1970 and 2021, there were nearly 12 000 reported disasters from weather, climate and water extremes, causing over 2 million deaths and $4.3 trillion in economic losses.

Over 90% of these reported deaths and 60% of economic losses occurred in developing economies, undermining sustainable development.  
Rising global temperatures have been accompanied by more extreme weather. The chance of the annual mean global near-surface temperature temporarily exceeding 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels for at least one of the next five years is 66% and is increasing with time.

‘We are not doing enough’

So far, there has been very limited progress in reducing the emissions gap for 2030 – the gap between the emissions reductions promised by countries and the emissions reductions needed to achieve the temperature goal of the Paris Agreement.

Fossil fuel CO2 emissions increased 1% globally in 2022 compared with 2021 and preliminary estimates from January-June 2023 show a further 0.3% rise. 
To get on track to meet the Paris Agreement goals of limiting warming to well below 2°C and preferably 1.5°C, global greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced by 30% and 45%, respectively, by 2030, with carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions getting close to net zero by 2050. This will require large-scale, rapid and systemic transformations.  
Some future changes in climate are unavoidable, and potentially irreversible, but every fraction of a degree and ton of CO2 matters to limit global warming and achieve the SDGs, says the report.

‘The science continues to show that we are not doing enough to lower emissions and meet the goals of the Paris Agreement – as the world prepares for the first global stocktake at COP28, we must increase our ambition and action, and we must all do the real work to transform our economies through a just transition to a sustainable future for people and planet.’

Executive director of the UN Environment Programme

Where we are

Total carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from fossil fuels increased 1% globally in 2022 compared with 2021. This was primarily driven by growth in oil use as the aviation sector rebounded. Preliminary estimates shows that global fossil CO2 emissions in January to June 2023 were 0.3% above the same period in 2022. 

There is a 98 % chance that one of the next five years will be the warmest on record. The IPCC projects that the long-term warming (averaged over 20 years) may reach the Paris Agreement level of 1.5 °C in the early 2030s.

Current mitigation policies will lead to estimated global warming of around 2.8 °C over this century compared with pre-industrial levels. Immediate and unprecedented reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are needed. 
SDG 2: Zero Hunger
It is estimated that nearly 670 million people may face hunger in 2030, in part due to more extreme weather events that disrupt each pillar of food security (access, availability, utilisation and stability).  

SDG 3: Good Health and Well-being
Climate change and extreme events like heatwaves are projected to significantly increase ill health and premature deaths, according to the IPCC. Rapid urbanisation puts more people at risk; for example, air pollution is a major urban threat to health and is associated with nearly seven million premature deaths annually.
SDG 6: Clean Water and Sanitation
Climate change is exacerbating water-related hazards like floods and droughts. Changes in precipitation patterns, evaporation rates and water storage pose significant challenges for managing water resources sustainably.  

More than 60% of countries have inadequate and declining hydrological monitoring capabilities. However, scientific and technological advances, such as drones, artificial intelligence (AI) and space technology, provide opportunities for data-driven integrated water management practices and policies.
SDG 7: Affordable and Clean Energy
Extreme weather events and climate change threaten the achievement of SDG 7 by changing energy supply capability and demand, making the clean energy transition more unpredictable and potentially more expensive.
SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities
Cities account for about 70% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and are home to more than half of the global population. They are vulnerable to rising sea levels and storm surges, heat waves, extreme precipitation and flooding, drought and water scarcity, and air pollution. 

SDG 13: Climate Action
Climate change has caused widespread and rapid changes in the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere and biosphere, which threaten to reverse progress towards achieving all the SDGs. 
SDG 14 Life Below Water
Climate- and human-related impacts are threatening our oceans, affecting marine ecosystems and the communities that rely on them for food and livelihood security.  
SDG 17:  Partnerships for the Goals
Half of countries report not having multi-hazard early warning systems (MHEWSs) in place and, where they do exist, there are significant gaps in coverage.

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