Millennium development agenda figures larger than life on the table of the UN while the whole world is strengthening strenuous efforts to mobilize, conceive, execute and expedite smart solutions to realize the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. The critical significance of active and meaningful participation by all actors is being rightly emphasized throughout the 2030 Agenda. That’s precisely why the Preamble reads “a spirit of strengthened global solidarity, focused in particular on the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable and with the participation of all countries, all stakeholders and all people.” The 2030 Agenda recalls how the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are “the result of over the years of intensive public consultations and a series of engagements with civil society and other stakeholders around the world, which paid particular attention to the voices of the poorest and most vulnerable.” Therefore, it is understandable that delivering on the SDGs in the current decade will demand drive, decisiveness, determination, and above all a sense of urgency. Thus, the Decade of Action for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) calls for the mobilization of all resources available across the planet and is driven by an aspiration that translates creative ideas into concrete, specific, and implementable solutions. It is pertinent to know that as of today, progress is being made in many places, but, overall, action to meet the SDGs is not yet optimized to meet the desired standards or pace. Therefore, the time has come that Decade of Action must seek to accelerate sustainable solutions to all the world’s biggest challenges including poverty, gender, climate change, inequality, and bridging the economic divides.
Needless to add that as countries move toward rebuilding their economies after COVID-19, recovery plans can shape the 21st-century economy in ways that are clean, green, healthy, safe, and more resilient.
Taking into account the threatening impacts of the above colossal challenges staring humanity in its face, in September 2019, the UN Secretary-General called on all sectors of society to mobilize for a decade of action on three levels. Firstly, it asked for a global action to secure greater leadership, more resources, and smarter solutions for the Sustainable Development Goals. Secondly, it required local action embedding the needed transitions in the policies, budgets, institutions, and regulatory frameworks of governments, cities, and local authorities. Thirdly, it sought to mobilize people’s action, including youth, civil society, the media, the private sector, unions, academia, and other stakeholders, to generate a vigorous movement pushing consistently for the required transformations. It is a sad reality to witness that the COVID-19 pandemic and its devastating impacts on all 17 SDGs have shown that what began as a health disaster has rapidly snowballed into a human and socio-economic catastrophe. While the crisis is adversely imperiling progress toward the SDGs, it also cries for their achievement all the more urgent and equally necessary. It is also imperative that recent gains on various fronts are protected as much as possible. Hence, it is immensely important that transformative recovery from COVID- 19 is religiously pursued, one that addresses the crisis, minimizes risks from future potential crises, and drives implementation efforts to deliver the 2030 Agenda and SDGs during the current Decade of Action.
Against this backdrop, it is very important to know that 2019 was the second warmest year on record and the end of the warmest decade (2010- 2019) ever recorded. Unfortunately, Carbon dioxide (CO2) levels and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere rose to new records in 2019. Hence, climate change is affecting every country on every continent. It is disrupting national economies and affecting lives. Weather patterns are fast-changing, sea levels are constantly rising, and weather conditions are becoming more extreme. Although greenhouse gas emissions are projected to drop about 6 percent in 2020 due to travel bans and economic slowdowns resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, this improvement is only temporary. By no means, climate change is on the pause. Once the global economy begins to recover from the pandemic, emissions are very likely to return to higher levels once more. Therefore, it is about time that saving lives and livelihoods requires urgent action to address both the post-pandemic and the climate emergency. The Paris Agreement, adopted in 2015, endeavors to address the climate issue on a war footing. It aims to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The agreement also aims to strengthen the ability of countries to deal with the impacts of climate change, through appropriate financial flows, a new technology framework, and an enhanced capacity-building framework within agreed timelines.
Needless to add that as countries move toward rebuilding their economies after COVID-19, recovery plans can shape the 21st-century economy in ways that are clean, green, healthy, safe, and more resilient. So, the post-Covid recovery phase offers an opportunity for a profound, systemic shift to a more sustainable economy that works for both people and the planet. The UN Secretary-General has already proposed six climate-positive actions for governments to take once they go about building back their economies and societies. Green transition: Investments must accelerate the de-carbonization of all aspects of our economy. Green jobs: a quest for sustainable and inclusive growth. Green economy: making societies and people more resilient through a transition that is fair to all and leaves no one behind. Invest in sustainable solutions: fossil fuel subsidies must end and polluters must pay for their pollution. Confront all climate risks, and Cooperation – no country can succeed alone. To address the climate emergency, post-pandemic recovery plans need to trigger long-term systemic shifts that will change the trajectory of CO2 levels in the atmosphere. To press these aspired objectives into practice, governments around the world have spent considerable time and effort in recent years to develop plans to chart a safer and more sustainable future for their citizens. Thus, taking these on board now as part of recovery planning can help the world build back better from the current crisis.
It is truly relevant to understand that as per various studies conducted by the UN, from 1880 to 2012, the average global temperature increased by 0.85°C. To put this into perspective, for each 1 degree of temperature increase, grain yields decline by about 5 percent. Likewise, maize, wheat, and other major crops have experienced significant yield reductions at the global level of 40 megatons per year between 1981 and 2002 due to a warmer climate. As a result, oceans have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished and the sea level has risen. From 1901 to 2010, the global average sea level rose by 19 cm as oceans expanded due to warming and ice melted. The Arctic’s sea ice extent has shrunk in every successive decade since 1979, with 1.07 million km² of ice loss every decade. Given current concentrations and ongoing emissions of greenhouse gases, it is likely that by the end of this century, the increase in global temperature will exceed 1.5°C compared to 1850 to 1900 for all but one scenario. The world’s oceans will warm and ice melt will continue unabated. Average sea-level rise is predicted to remain 24-30cm by 2065 and 40-63cm by the year 2100. Similarly, most aspects of climate change will persist for many centuries even if emissions are stopped. The world has witnessed that global emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) have increased by almost 50 percent since 1990. Emissions grew more quickly between 2000 and 2010 than in each of the three previous decades. It is still possible, using a wide array of technological measures and changes in behavior, to limit the increase in global mean temperature to two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Major institutional and technological change will give a better than even chance that global warming will not exceed this threshold.
Therefore, we must remember that every human action has its implications for climate change. Hence, we need to make rational, sensible, and wiser choices to address gigantic challenges including climate change. In a nutshell, it will not be out of place to infer that focusing on clear benefits to people and natural ecosystems, limiting global warming to 1.5ºC compared to 2ºC could go hand in hand with ensuring a more sustainable and equitable society.
The writer is a civil servant by profession, a writer by choice and a motivational speaker by passion!
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