The unification of climate and development in 2015

Kate Offerdahl, International Institute for Sustainable Development

The last month of 2014 marked a busy time for all following the international negotiations on the future of our planet. While delegates boiled in hot conference rooms in Lima to negotiate a new climate change agreement under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), their counterparts across the world at UN Headquarters in New York braved freezing temperatures and snowstorms to debate Financing for Development (FfD) and the modalities of the development agenda negotiations. Though opposite in temperature and political nature, these two processes have in common one very important characteristic: they are both attempts for governments to come together to imagine a better future for our planet. These sweeping mandates may be more difficult to achieve when viewed together, however, as the challenges of international cooperation are intensified in the face of the development and climate negotiations of 2015.

Ultimately, at the crux of agreement on both a new global development and climate agenda lay a few key issues, namely accountability, financing, and responsibility. It is widely understood that the intergovernmental deals struck on these issues will have to be similar in nature across the two forums, and will in fact depend on each other’s success. Climate and development action must be one and the same, for this is the only way for the world to develop in a sustainable manner. Developed and developing countries must put aside old, tired agreements on these issues to act in common responsibility for safeguarding the future of our planet and our societies.

Member States have repeatedly made it clear that the UN processes for establishing a new development agenda and a climate agreement should be kept politically separate. Nevertheless, it is getting increasingly difficult to see these two issues on opposite ends of one spectrum. Small Island Developing States (SIDS) are seeing their development prospects dashed by rising sea levels, while the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) are realising the economic opportunities presented by sustainable technologies.

The issues of financing and differentiated responsibility are arguably the two challenges that have held international cooperation on development and climate at bay for the past fifteen years. Can 2015 be the year of renewed engagement, and a diplomatic package agreement finding common ground on all of these topics?

Ultimately, the scale of the agreements expected in the development and climate spheres give them great weight to attract international attention, signal the need for a sustainability revolution, and set the world’s agenda for the next fifteen years.

The communities of environment and development policy-makers and civil society have been notoriously divided over the past twenty years. With the onset of a new sustainable development agenda, however, the argument is being made that these interwoven issues will finally be given greater policy coherence at the international level. Civil society must also heed this call, and create better partnerships across sectoral lines.

The true opportunities of 2015 come not in the crafting of new diplomatic language or restructuring institutions, however, but in communicating to the world a new consensus for the future. If development and climate change are not seen together, scientists predict grave consequences for all. So as our common path must lead towards developing sustainably and safeguarding the climate for future generations, the public will only ever see these two processes as interlinked.

The United Nations can keep the negotiating venues for climate and development as separate as they want, but in the hopes of present and future global citizens, they will always be united.

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