COP and the SDGs: Why climate change is a development issue

In the lead up to COP24, climate change and how to tackle it was high on the policy agenda.

The gathering of world leaders in Katowice at the beginning of December presents a timely reminder of how, like development, the issue transcends international boundaries. Taking place hot on the heels of the UN General Assembly meetings, it should also help refocus attention on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the truly global effort needed to achieve these. In a new series, our experts take a look at how and why the SDGs and climate change are completely interdependent and what policymakers can – and should – be doing about them.


G 1: No poverty

Based in the United States, Valentina Barca from our Poverty and Social Protection team takes a look at the implications of climate change for the first SDG.

Natural disasters – ‘shocks’ – like floods, droughts, and earthquakes are becoming increasingly, devastatingly, prevalent: according to the World Bank, the annual frequency of natural disasters increased by 250% between 1980 and 2012, while the number of people affected increased by 140%. A changing climate has been linked to this increase, with global warming disrupting weather patterns across the globe.

The devastating social and economic impacts of these shocks are difficult to comprehend: the UNHCR estimates that, on average, 22 million people per year were forced to flee their homes as a result of natural disasters since 2008. The loss of homes and livelihoods associated with forced displacement has tipped many below the poverty line – the World Bank estimates that, unless drastic action is taken, climate change will push an additional 100 million people into extreme poverty by 2030.

Due to the unexpected nature of these disasters, policymakers often focus their efforts on preventing further loss of lives and mitigating consequences. However, these strategies fail to consider the long-term nature of crises and the connection between shocks and poverty and vulnerability. Social protection programmes can help to address these gaps, however, policymakers need to prioritise the following challenges:

  • Ensure learnings from past shocks are incorporated intro policy and practice
  • Build long-term programmes that are resilient to shocks and flexible to accommodate rapidly changing numbers of people in need
  • Prioritise measures that enhance inclusiveness, non-discrimination, and gender equality

OPM’s work in building climate resilient social protection systems includes a global shock responsive social protection study, two regional shock responsive studies (in LAC and ASEAN), and a project exploring how to effectively use existing government systems for shock response.


2: Zero hunger

Speaking from the field in Nigeria, Julia Hug from our Nutrition team discusses how climate change impacts the second SDG.

Despite tremendous efforts, the number of hungry people around the world is rising. UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that more than 820 million people, one in every nine people, was suffering malnourishment in 2017. Key drivers behind the rise in hunger are changing climate patterns and prolonged weather extremes. In 2017, FAO highlighted climate change as fundamental threat to ending hunger, improving nutrition, and achieving food security. Julia explores the links between climate and nutrition:

Taking place at this intersection was our work in Ethiopia, which researched the impacts of El Niño drought on the well-being of the most vulnerable communities. The findings of this project have informed UNICEF’s drought-oriented policy in Ethiopia, as well as in other parts of the world. This research was spotlighted in the Best of UNICEF Research 2018

SDG 3: Good health and well-being

Our Health team lead Nouria Brikci explores the crucial link between health and climate change and the implications of delayed action.

Climate change is intricately linked to health, with clean air, safe drinking water, and sufficient food all being imperative for good health. Unless drastic action is taken now, climate change will have a devastating impact on people’s health – it is predicted to cause up to 250,000 additional deaths per year between 2030 and 2050 (WHO), from malnutrition, malaria, and diarrhoea. Those impacts will disproportionately affect people living in low- and middle-income countries, which are insufficiently prepared to cope with dramatic climate changes. These countries are already some of the most affected ones by worsening climate conditions.

To help highlight the cross-sectoral connections between climate change and various other fields, such as health, nutrition, and social protection, we are leading a research project called MAINTAINS. This innovative project aims to deepen the understanding around how these sectors are connected and how to address the issues they raise. Within a disaster risk framework, we are looking at how climate change is likely to exacerbate some of the disasters we are already seeing, and what can be done to support and scale up systems to better cope with disasters related to climate change. 

We have also researched how to best limit the impacts of air pollution on child health in Mongolian capital Ulaanbaatar, which has one of the highest air pollution levels in the world. Our study provided practical recommendations to policymakers on budget interventions to significantly decrease respiratory diseases caused by air pollution amongst children.

Discover other posts in our Climate and the SDGs series – focusing on quality education, gender equality, and clean water and sanitation; affordable energy, economic growth, and innovation; reducing inequalities, sustainable cities, and responsible consumption; climate action, marine life, and sustainable forestry; and peace and strong institutions, and goal partnerships.

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