More than 2,000 participants at the UN Climate and SDG Synergies Conference, held in Tokyo and virtually on 20-21 July, generated an impressive range of potential solutions and proposals for how to better integrate efforts to tackle these interlinked global crises and accelerate action to address the climate emergency and recent reversals in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. 

Featuring over 100 speakers from around the world, including more than 30 government Ministers and other high-level officials, the Third Global Conference on Strengthening Synergies between the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, as it is formally titled, was co-convened by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA) and the Secretariat of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and hosted by the Ministry of the Environment of Japan, in partnership with the United Nations University (UNU) and the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES).

At the high-level segment of the Conference, Ministers, heads of UN organizations and agencies, business leaders, scientists and youth representatives emphasized the need for greater SDG and climate ambition. The need to urgently boost joint implementation and address gaps such as financing and capacity building was also recognized.

Liu Zhenmin, UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, said that “to get the Sustainable Development Goals on track and keep the goal of 1.5 degrees alive, we must dramatically increase the pace of implementation and ramp up ambition. An integrated approach between the Paris Agreement and 2030 Agenda is critical”, he said, “and is entirely possible”.

Ibrahim Thiaw, Acting Executive Secretary of UN Climate Change (UNFCCC), said that the climate crisis and sustainable development challenges like land degradation are “inseparable” and that the last few years have shown us how interconnected our world is. He called for greater synergies at the national level, through cooperation across ministries, and globally, through enhanced collaboration across UN organizations.

Japan’s Environment Minister Tsuyoshi Yamaguchi, welcoming participants as host of the conference, highlighted his country’s efforts towards deep decarbonization through innovative fuels, inter-city collaboration and economic transition bonds. The Japanese Government, which currently holds the Presidency of the G7, also announced a new target of raising USD 15 billion through the G7 for decarbonization and plans to issue “green transition” bonds.

Citing the long list of devastating global crises that have disrupted sustainable development efforts over the last few years, Amina J. Mohammed, UN Deputy Secretary-General and Chair of the UN Sustainable Development Group, said that “we must turn this perfect storm into an opportunity to transform our systems, become more climate-resilient and transition to a greener economy. We must come together to rescue the SDGs and the Paris goals before it is too late,” she stated.

Abdulla Shahid of Maldives, President of the 76th Session of the UN General Assembly, emphasized that climate change is cross-cutting, affecting all the SDGs.  “Can we call social programmes sustainable if they ignore the need to adapt to a changing climate?” he asked.

The UN Secretary-General's Envoy on Youth, Jayathama Wickramanayake, urged delegates to allow youth to be part of crafting solutions. “Let youth lead the way,” she stated.

Hoesung Lee, Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, summarizing the dire findings of the three major IPCC reports in the past year, called for a greater sense of urgency and said that there is “no time for half measures”.

The Conference programme included six parallel sessions on key themes, as well as fascinating “elevator pitches” where participants proposed diverse actions to meet both climate and SDG goals. For example, Shom Teoh of IGES presented an SDGs Frontrunner Cities project underway in a number of ASEAN countries. Discussions drew on an informative Conference Background Note, and a number of technical briefs prepared by a Technical Advisory Group, all available on the Conference website.  

Key lessons

Participants generally agreed on a number of key points and reinforced each others’ messages. Many speakers noted that ramping up synergistic action on climate and the SDGs is needed now more than ever, as a growing mountain of evidence clearly shows how far off track these two critical agendas are. There is also increasing evidence that suggests delivering win–win outcomes for climate action and the SDGs is completely possible, but the full potential of such synergistic outcomes can only be realised if deliberate action is taken. For example, the latest IPCC report shows that if we take decisive climate action now, there is potential to not only advance the SDGs immediately but also gain tremendous development co-benefits in the long-term such as $43 trillion in economic output by 2070.

Many at the Conference made the point that integrated planning and action require getting the whole of government on board, engaging line ministries as well as sub-national and local authorities, in addition to the whole of society, including youth and indigenous people. In order to ensure a just transition and leave no one behind, it was noted, climate action should prioritize the needs of poor and vulnerable communities, as well as those who will be impacted the most by transformational pathways.

The way forward

Looking at the way forward, Conference participants highlighted that integrated implementation of climate action and the SDGs should include strengthening the evidence base for synergistic action with inputs from technical experts, and convening multi-stakeholder dialogues at all levels, in order to share knowledge and bring together communities of practice across sectors. They also called for transformative partnerships among government, the private sector, civil society, academia, communities and individuals, and acknowledged that youth must play a game-changing role. Participants recommended enhancing integrated planning, including by coordinating existing instruments such as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs), and National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans (NBSAPs), as well as by leveraging key intergovernmental processes and global milestones such as the SDG Summit in 2023.  

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