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All Roads Lead to Paris 2015


The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is at the forefront of global affairs. Setting such an overarching goal as:  “to free race from the tyranny of poverty and want and to heal and secure our planet” has placed a spotlight on its ambitions. The measure of its success is even bolder: “no one will be left behind”. Could the SDGs usher in a paradigm shift in how the global community manages collective goods?

More specific than the Millennium Development Goal (MDGs), the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) could be more likely to succeed having been developed through the experience of the MDGs.  Skeptics however, point to the less than satisfactory track record of collective efforts to achieve sustainability especially in Africa. “High levels of initial inequality weaken the power of growth to reduce poverty”. SDGS will only succeed if they succeed in Africa.

The 2014 Africa Progress Report Grain Fish and Money expands on the challenges that Africa faces as its nations’ attempt to step out of the quagmire of poverty. Addressing climate change is central in achieving the SDGs as it affects less developed countries the most. Extreme weather in Sub-Saharan Africa is causing crop failures and exacerbating conditions prime for diseases like Malaria. By 2030, 90 million more people in Africa will be exposed to malaria. From food security, to health, sustainable and affordable clean energy, clean water, sanitation and peace and security, the effects of climate change are deeply permeating the African economic landscape.

Kofi Annan stated that “if Africa is to achieve the transformative economic growth that it needs to reduce poverty, there is no alternative to the development of a vibrant and prosperous agricultural sector”. Africa must capitalize on the opportunities of the blue and green revolution for sustainable development and prioritize low carbon technologies. In many African countries, moving beyond small organic farming to becoming competitive sector that can rival the extractive industry and bring much-needed diversification to African economies has been touted as the way forward. Furthermore, an industry like tourism with a huge potential to generate jobs, would aid in economic diversification. Were sustainable coastal and maritime tourism to thrive in Sub-Saharan Africa, a higher priority would be given to integrated coastal management and climate action initiatives. However, climate change is causing erosion and rising sea levels that threaten the sector’s growth.

Ultimately the onus is on African governments to place a higher focus on meeting sustainable development targets. Identifying tax revenue leakages, increasing agriculture-geared expenditure, and taking greater ownership of climate action by integrating international laws into national legal frameworks are inextricably linked with success.

Challenges persist. The MDG targets were hardly met (out of 153 countries, only 7 met the goal of eradicating extreme poverty, of which only two African countries) and funding climate action is difficult. Within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) responsible to facilitate the implementation of adaptation and loss and damage measures, 100 billion  was earmarked by richer countries to support developing countries cut their greenhouse gas emissions and prepare for sea-level rises, extreme weather and other consequences of climate change, but honoring promises has not been forthcoming. The 3rd Conference on Financing for Development concluded with the Addis Ababa Agenda (AAAA) with little commitments from participants. The “Addis opportunity”, if maximized would serve as a guide on “how to” foster sustainable industrialization paths and employment policies based on decent work and job creation”.

According to the Africa Progress Report, 55 billion a year is needed to transform African energy systems and unlock Sub-Saharan Africa’s green economy potential. The trend however is in the opposite direction. In 2013, African governments spent 21 billion on energy subsidies while G20 countries, rather than taxing emissions spent USD$88 billion, subsidizing carbon emissions through fossil fuel exploration and production. Economic growth is apparent in mining and petroleum sectors but the rural poor continue to be marginalized.

Implementation of the SDGs is critical. In the past 10 years scientists have been able to better quantify the links between carbon emissions and climate change. Globally, the costs of adaptation could reach $150 billion per year by 2030, and $500 billion per year by 2050, if emissions continue to rise at the current rate, according to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). The international community from all accounts, despite lagging outcomes, has heeded the calls for redress. With the 21st Session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21/CMP11) or Paris 2015 to be held in December 2015, the global community is given a golden opportunity to shift the paradigm. For the first time, a universal, legally binding agreement can enable effective climate change counter measures and a transition towards resilient, low-carbon emitting societies and economies. With France at the helm of negotiations, an active advocate for reducing emissions and prioritizing clean energy, the seemingly overarching resolutions of the SDGs could be actualized. At a recent roundtable of 73 finance ministers and multinational companies’ CEOs, the French finance minister, Michel Sapin reiterated that mobilizing the USD$100 billion to help developing countries to face climate change was an essential requirement to bringing credibility to the Paris 2015 negotiations.

The clarion has indeed been sounded. This may well be the signal that Africa was waiting for. Recently, the president of the African Development Bank (AfDB), Akinwumi Adesina, said the AfDB would nearly triple its annual climate financing to reach $5 billion a year by 2020, increasing climate spending to 40% of its total new investments by 2020. The outcome of Paris 2015 is crucial. Proven successful, implementing the SDGs although fraught with complexities could stand a chance.

Samuna Thompson Wreh is social media associate for the Journal of Diplomacy and a first year graduate student pursuing a dual Masters in Diplomacy & International Relations and Strategic Communications at Seton Hall University. Samuna is interested in specializing in International Law and Human Rights and Africa.


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