In September 2015, the world ratified a bold new agenda that is nothing short of revolutionary in its aims. In just 15 years, the international community has pledged to end extreme poverty, fight injustice and inequality and to combat climate change.
These 17 Sustainable Development Goals have the potential to be truly transformational but the time has never been more pressing. Seventeen goals, 15 years: the gauntlet has been thrown down. Should we fail, there may not be a second chance to get it right.
In Europe and Central Asia, the region I head at the United Nations Development Program, there is no country where the impact of climate change cannot be seen and felt. I remember visiting the aftermath of the catastrophic flooding in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Croatia where 1.6 million people were affected by the heaviest rainfall in 120 years. Floods in Georgia and Tajikistan also left scores dead and thousands displaced. The list of extreme climate events goes on. In fact, it does not stop.
This will likely be the hottest year on record and no individual or country is impervious to our rising temperatures. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented.
A 2014 World Bank report’s prognosis is dire: “Present emission trends put the world plausibly on a path toward” 4 degrees Celsius warming by the end of the century. It remains unclear whether or not humanity can adapt to a world that is 4 degrees Celsius warmer. To quote the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon: “There is no ‘Plan B’ for action as there is no ‘Planet B.’”
To safeguard both people and planet, we must keep the global increase in average temperature below 2 degrees Celsius, which is why it has never been more important to go on low-emission and climate-resilient development pathways. From increased droughts to more erratic storms, climate change threatens to undermine decades of development gains and put at risk efforts to eradicate poverty. We simply have to get this right.
As the U.N. agency working on sustainable development, UNDP has a mandate of supporting countries as they move towards low carbon development paths, more sustainable use of natural resources and resilience to climate change. Here’s what this looks like on the ground in our region:
In Serbia, UNDP helped build dikes to protect the municipalities which suffered the worst consequences of last year’s floods, while in Bosnia and Herzegovina, we employed affected people to clean and repair damaged buildings, remove debris and build back better.
In Tajikistan, where unsustainable land use and climate change have led to depleted soils, deforestation and waning productivity, UNDP and the U.N. Environment Program are supporting green enterprises led by women to harvest and sell organic produce on the markets, securing food for households and generating revenue for these women.
The sheer magnitude of this challenge, touching on every sector and every community, requires all stakeholders to come together and address climate change with new approaches. And bold leadership will be required from decision-makers to accelerate them.
The private sector has an important role to play in financing and implementing climate action. To help leverage private funding for climate change mitigation and adaptation, UNDP works with governments to ensure that laws and public policies can make it faster and easier to invest in green and clean energy solutions.
“Ours is the last generation which can head off the worst effects of climate change,” UNDP Administrator Helen Clark said at the launch of the SDGs. As we head to the 21st annual Conference of Parties where an estimated 50,000 participants from across 190 countries will come together with the aim of securing a legally binding and universal agreement on climate change, may these words ring in our ears. It could be our only opportunity.
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Cihan Sultanoğlu is assistant administrator and director of the Regional Bureau for Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States at U.N. Development Program. In her more than 30 years with UNDP, she has held a variety of positions at its headquarters, as well as in Asia, Africa and the Arab states.
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