In September 2015, the UN established the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a follow on to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The idea behind setting these goals is to suggest ways in which countries and people can work to improve the human condition. Countries have agreed that these new SDGs should be achieved by 2030.
Only two months later, countries gathered in Paris and successfully negotiated the Paris Agreement which is now the anchor for all conversations taking place here at COP23 and under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change more generally.
While the Paris Agreement does not specifically call out the SDGs, it references the need to work "in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty" throughout the text. As climate action is one of the 17 SDGs-- it is SDG 13-- there is a direct tie between these two UN efforts.
In the age of the MDGs, they were not at the forefront of conversations in the climate change arena. Under the UNFCCC, in Paris in 2015, the SDGs were brand new and were not broadly discussed during negotiations or side events. In Marrakech last year, there was some commentary, but still no overwhelming linkage. At COP23, this has all changed.
The SDGs are everywhere here in Bonn, and it is clear that efforts are being made, especially on the part of the non-governmental groups here, to highlight this linkage. As you bike between the two zones of the conference, you are met by a massive globe surrounded by the SDG logo (see photo). The side events schedule is laden with discussions about the interconnectedness not only of the Paris Agreement and SDG13, but with the targets and indicators of almost every SDG.
Think tanks have put together massive databases to provide evidence of the connection. At one side event I attended called "The 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement- Towards a new and coherent development paradigm at the national and international level," three organizations presented their own version of this content. WRI and GIZ have a report coming out in the next few weeks with information on the overlap and disconnect between which ministries within a country manage the SDGs and which deal with the Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) under the Paris Agreement. One database to check out is the WRI SDG-NDC tool where you can generate all kinds of information about the relationship between the SDGs and the NDCs. Another one to check out is the German Development Institute and the Stockholm Environment Institute's tool called NDC-SDG Connections.
However, some delegates here at the COP are weary of this push for a joint SDG-NDC agenda. A professor from TERI University in India suggested during a side event last week that she wants to caution countries about the joint agenda due to the challenges associated with operationalizing it. She asked. "Are we looking at these as obligations or are we actually taking full ownership?" She goes on to explain that, to her, a combining of the agendas suggests that countries will start to see all these lumped tasks as obligations which is a problem.
In the negotiating rooms that I have been in this week, the delegates have not been bringing the SDGs into the conversation. As of now, while the two agendas are linking up in the civil society sphere, they still remain separate in the eyes of the negotiators here in Bonn.
This will be something to watch over the coming years- will these massive goals for humanity be brought together or kept within their own constructed worlds?
Anna is a master's student pursuing a dual degree in Climate and Quaternary Studies with the Climate Change Institute and in Global Policy with the School for Policy and International Affairs. Her research interests include climate change adaptation governance and interactions of international climate governance and ocean governance regimes.