Development in the age of climate change: where does the PM’s high-level panel take us?

cambodiaThis post is by Dr Alison Doig, senior climate change adviser at Christian Aid and Dr Ruth Fuller, international development policy adviser at  WWF-UK.

The new World Bank report, Turn down the heat, gives a startling and frank warning. It presents a picture of the devastating impacts of climate change on the developing world within our lifetimes, from droughts affecting food supply in Africa and India, to cyclones and extreme temperatures threatening communities in South Asia.

International development strategy must factor in climate change
A global temperature rise of two degrees will massively increase the threat of droughts, floods, extreme heat and transmission of diseases to vulnerable communities. Two degrees is the best our world leaders hope to limit the rise to. They hope to prevent the increasingly likelihood of a four degree rise. A four degree rise would be simply devastating and is what we are heading for as we continue business as usual.

We can’t develop the world if we don’t take on these clear and very real risks. This was a major consideration for environment and development groups as Prime Minister David Cameron co-chaired a group of the UN High-level Panel on the post-2015 development agenda (HLP) on the future of international development.

Transforming traditional models of development
As Mr Cameron’s group considered what its priorities would be, Christian Aid and WWF-UK worked with Green Alliance, RSPB and Greenpeace to call for environmental sustainability to be integrated across the post-2015 goals , to transform the way we do development. We highlighted why it mattered and the key tests of how we could see if it had been achieved.

The HLP has now published its final report A new global partnership, setting out its recommendations for the shape of the international development framework that will follow the Millennium Development Goals in 2015. With the report now being considered by the UN secretary general in advance of the UN General Assembly meeting this September, we can now assess whether they have successfully taken on the challenges we set them.

Did the High-level Panel address the issues?
In many ways they have. Much of the content of the report is to be celebrated. The discussion of the role of food, water, energy, partnerships and natural resource management all understand the challenge from climate change. And its messaging is strong: “We must act now to halt the alarming pace of climate change and environmental degradation, which pose unprecedented threats to humanity. People living in poverty will suffer first and worst from climate change.”

However, now we need to turn these strong words into measurable and transformative goals, targets and indicators, which are in turn translated into joint action by governments, businesses and civil society.

A new framework for a new world
As stressed in the report, ‘business as usual’ is not an option. Too great an expectation is placed on current and future technology to solve resource challenges, and not enough emphasis on changing production and consumption patterns. There is a recognition that governments and businesses alike need to be more transparent in their social and environmental impacts, and this needs to translate into robust targets and indicators in the next iteration of the framework.

Whilst the report acknowledges the future threats from environmental degradation, the post-2015 framework needs to do more to prepare for this new world and factor in the increased social, economic and environmental costs of adaptation even if temperatures rise is constrained to just two degrees.

The need to secure political action
The HLP report has got the messaging and rhetoric right on many levels, and has gone some way in proposing illustrative goals and targets to set the ambition for the post-2015 process. But its only the starter, now we need the main meal. Going forward, the final framework has a job to do in setting out how to secure political will and action, and setting sufficient challenging and measurable targets to drive real change.

This mustn’t become another worthy report that gathers dust, like the Global Sustainability Panel’s report ahead of Rio+20. It should link to other processes including the Sustainable Development Goals to develop a single, strong, targeted goal framework that can drive genuine change and deliver development within resource limits and a climate constrained world. Because, as the prime minister’s group seems to have realised, if the post-2015 framework doesn’t deal with climate change, it will fail.

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