- Eight of 17 Sustainable Development Goals are impacted by the effects of climate change, which could undermine progress in achieving the SDGs by 2030, a World Meteorological Organisation report says.
- Improving observational data collection and advancing access to research and technology will close existing knowledge gaps and can support achievement of SDGs.
- India’s progress in achieving the SDGs is likely to be impacted by climate change. Research shows India is lagging behind on 19 out of 33 SDG indicators.
Climate change is undermining the achievement of nearly all the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a new report by the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) has said, which adds that existing science and technology can be part of the solution if made accessible and deployed strategically.
The United by Science report, published by the WMO in partnership with 17 other organisations and intergovernmental bodies, finds that climate change “undermines global efforts to tackle hunger, poverty and ill-health, improve access to clean water and energy and many other aspects of sustainable development.” An earlier UN report found that only 15 percent of SDGs – which are aimed for achievement by 2030 – were on track.
India is among the countries whose progress in achieving the SDGs will likely be affected in some capacity by a changing climate. Last year, India’s rank in achieving the SDGs reportedly dropped for the third consecutive year, to 120 out of 192, performing especially poorly on the goals related to hunger, health, gender equality and sustainable cities and communities.
The WMO report offers a way forward with “weather-, climate- and water-related sciences and services,” which is described as the innovative use of observational data, such as in weather forecasting and climate projections. “High-resolution climate modeling, artificial intelligence and nowcasting can catalyze transformation to achieve the SDGs. And achieving Early Warnings for All by 2027 will not only save lives and livelihoods but also help safeguard sustainable development,” said WMO Secretary-General Prof. Petteri Taalas in a statement.
Between 1970 and 2021, there were 11,778 reported disasters attributed to weather, climate and water extremes, which caused over two million deaths and $4.3 trillion in economic losses, globally, according to the report. A majority of deaths (over 90 percent) and economic losses (60 percent), over this period, occurred in developing countries.
“Climate change disrupts socio-economic factors, particularly affecting vulnerable households and communities like coastal areas suffering from receding shorelines, leading to a decline in their fisheries business. This loss of livelihood exacerbates poverty and food insecurity, resulting in heightened stress and undernutrition, particularly among children,” said S.V. Subramanian, professor of Population Health and Geography at Harvard University. Hypertension, the spread of malaria, and air quality are all influenced by a changing climate.
“In light of these interconnected factors, it becomes evident that climate change is poised to have enduring and far-reaching consequences on the sustainable development goals related to health,” he told Mongabay India.
SDGs and climate change
The SDGs were designed by the United Nations in 2012 at the UN’s Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, with the objective “to produce a set of universal goals that meet the urgent environmental, political and economic challenges facing our world.”
Of the 17 SDGs spanning education, gender equality, and climate action, among other issues, the WMO’s United in Science report focuses on only eight which are directly impacted by weather, climate and water-related sciences and services. These eight are the SDG 2 (Zero Hunger), SDG 3 (Good Health and Wellbeing), SDG 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation), SDG 7 (Affordable and Clean Energy), SDG 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities), SDG 13 (Climate Action), SDG 14 (Life Below Water) and SDG 17 (Partnerships for the Goals).
The report comes at a time when a stocktaking exercise to determine progress in implementing the Paris Agreement’s goals finds that the world is collectively off track to limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius by the end of the century.
Small scale farmers in developing countries who are part of food systems are especially vulnerable to erratic weather events and climate change, says the WMO report, endangering the Zero Hunger SDG. “Investments should be directed towards infrastructure development and monitoring, strengthening institutional arrangements between National Meteorological and Hydrological Services and agricultural extension, as well as creating public–private partnerships to enhance delivery and uptake of information,” says the report.
The report further finds that although 74 percent of WMO members provide climate data to the health sector, “only 48% of National Meteorological and Hydrological Services provided tailored climate products and services to the health sector.” The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had reported that climate-related illnesses, premature deaths, and malnutrition “in all its forms,” are on the rise. Gaps in climate data act as a barrier to identifying pathways to climate-resilient health systems, which puts SDG 3 on health and wellbeing on back foot, the report says.
Rapid urbanisation also puts more people at risk of adverse health outcomes, the report warns. Designing sustainable cities, SDG 11, is undermined by the fact that cities are responsible for a large proportion of greenhouse gas emissions. In 2020, cities were responsible for 70 percent of global emissions, according to the report. The urban poor are most vulnerable to climate change in rapidly urbanising contexts.
A study by researchers in Cambridge and Yale found, last year, that India’s climate vulnerability index wasn’t adequately accounting for the effects of extreme heat. Underestimating heat impacts, the study warned, could make certain SDGs such as sustainable cities and health unattainable. The WMO’s report is in agreement, saying “properly integrating climate science into urban planning and evaluating the impact of climate change on cities’ infrastructures helps cities become more resilient and sustainable in a changing environment.”
Ocean acidification, marine heatwaves and uncertain water supplies also affect SDGs 6 and 14. “The lack of timely, accessible, available and verified hydrological data is a significant challenge, with more than 60% of countries facing inadequate and declining hydrological monitoring capabilities,” the report says.
Climate change also affects the supply of renewable energy sources. Long term wind patterns and speeds, for example, are known to be affected by climate change. “The day-to-day operation of energy systems is heavily dependent on weather and climate data across timescales, from minutes to years, to manage supply and demand,” says the report, which recommends that to make clean energy, SDG 7 accessible, “fortifying open data sources and attempting to make commercial data more accessible to a broader community, especially for public planning purposes are important.”
SDGs in India and how to address gaps
A recent study led by Subramanian from March this year examined 33 indicators for SDG progress in 707 districts in India and found that India was off track in 19 of them. The most pressing indicators which were off track in more than 75 percent of districts assessed included access to basic services, wasting and overweight children, anaemia, child marriage, partner violence, tobacco use, and modern contraceptive use.
The assessment “suggests an urgent need to increase the pace and momentum on four SDG goals: No Poverty (SDG 1), Zero Hunger (SDG 2), Good Health and Well-Being (SDG 3) and Gender Equality (SDG 5),” says the report.
“Typically, policies, especially those pertaining to health, are formulated at the state level but implemented at the district level, with further execution occurring at the local level, encompassing villages and urban city blocks. Given that the framework for achieving the SDGs is already in place, the primary challenge lies in enhanced execution,” said Dr Mayanka Ambade, a co-author of the study with Subramanian and a former fellow with the Lakshmi Mittal and Family South Asia Institute at Harvard. “Achieving superior execution will hinge upon meticulous attention to detail and the acquisition of precise, granular data.”
Improving observational data collection and advancing access to research and technology will “close existing knowledge gaps and advance emerging technologies, such as high-resolution modeling, artificial intelligence and nowcasting, that can support the SDGs when made accessible,” says the WMO’s report.
It also recommends strengthening SDG 17, Partnerships for the Goals, to help bridge gaps. Initiatives like the Early Warnings for All, which calls for every person on earth to be protected by early warnings by 2027, “is essential to improve the effectiveness of weather-, climate- and water-related science across society and accelerate progress towards achieving the SDGs.”
“While specific roadmap recommendations are better suited for experts in fields like poverty or gender studies, a fundamental starting point for any roadmap is to establish a comprehensive understanding of the problems at hand. A crucial step for India is to transition towards real-time data collection and ensure its easy accessibility to the public. Research efforts should also prioritize data triangulation to uncover the intricate interconnectedness of issues at a granular level,” said Subramanian.
Banner image: A fisherman throws out his net in Vengurla, Maharashtra. Photo by Dilip V Nerlikar/Wikimedia Commons.