Helen Clark is calling for renewed focus on the SDGs and the Paris Agreement on climate change. Via YouTube.

BARCELONA — The Sustainable Development Goals and the landmark Paris Agreement on climate change will fail unless countries ramp up efforts to comply with their commitments, according to Helen Clark, former head of the United Nations Development Programme.

“The truth is that we're way off course … and if things continue like that, both these great global agendas will fail, which is a devastating thing if it's allowed to happen,” Clark told Devex in an interview.

The United Nationsannual progress report shows that despite the implementation of the 2030 agenda, levels of hunger are on the rise again since 2015. In terms of climate change, it also noted that 2017 was one of the three warmest years on record, with sea levels and greenhouse gases continuing to increase.

Clark, the former prime minister of New Zealand urged development practitioners to focus on the upcoming high-level events on SDGs this year — the 2019 Climate Summit and the seventh U.N. High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development — to identify what’s going wrong and produce new motivation for countries “to get on with it.”

“I think we need to be focusing on the nationally determined contributions that every country that signed up to the Paris Agreement is supposed to produce on what they will do to mitigate climate change to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” Clark said, adding that she thought countries’ ambitions needed to be raised.

Argentina, Australia, Canada, the European Union, Republic of Korea, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, and United States are just some of the countries lagging behind on their nationally determined contributions, which are intended to prevent global warming from rising above 2 degrees Celsius. The Emissions Gap Report 2018 states that regardless of whether these NDCs are met, it won’t be enough to bridge the emissions gap.

Clark highlighted that this is where development efforts come in, with the poorest countries and those 1.8 billion living in fragile states in need of the most support when it comes to climate change adaptation and extreme poverty eradication.

“There are around 48 countries who are low-income and extremely vulnerable, who need support, otherwise their citizens are not going to see the benefits of [the] SDGs,” Clark said, adding that current projections show that, by 2030, 6 percent of the world’s population — around half a billion people — is likely to be living in extreme poverty. “It's not [poverty] eradication.”

In response to a question about what she hoped would come out of the World Economic Forum taking place this week in Davos, Switzerland, Clark said it was unfortunate this particular high-level event would not have a climate or SDG focus.

To watch Devex’s full conversation with Helen Clark on climate change, equality, and conflict, click here. 

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  • Rebecca Root

    Rebecca Root is a Reporter and Editorial Associate at Devex producing news stories, video, and podcasts as well as partnership content. She has a background in finance, travel, and global development journalism and has written for a variety of publications while living and working in New York, London, and Barcelona.