If there is one global initiative that currently captures the attention of most countries in the world, it is the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Agreed upon as a follow-up to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2015, the SDGs set 17 goals to be achieved by the year 2030 (the 2030 Agenda). These goals include a diverse array, ranging from Goal 1 on No Poverty to Goal 11 on Sustainable Cities and Communities, and Goal 5 on Gender Equality to Goal 16 on Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions. When I was working with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) earlier this year, I had realized just how much states were interested in the 2030 Agenda. If we had to convince a state to do something, the easiest way would be to argue that the particular thing fit into the 2030 Agenda. So, for example, when we were advocating for a resolution of cases of statelessness, it was particularly effective to supplement our regular arguments by saying that target 16.9 of the SDGs required states to provide legal identity for all, including birth registration by 2030.

When it comes climate change, there are some SDGs that automatically stand out as being clearly linked to the issue. The primary one is goal 13, which is focused on climate action. But there are other goals, such as Goal 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation), Goal 7 (Affordable and Clean Energy), Goal 14 (Life Under Water) and Goal 15 (Life on Land) that also have clear linkages to climate change. So when I saw that there were a couple of side events on my first day at the COP on SDGs and climate change, I was not entirely surprised. When I attended the first event, however, I realized just how linked the two were. The speakers had not just connected the five goals I mentioned above to climate change but also others that I had not really thought that much about in relation to the issue. These include Goal 2 (Zero Hunger), Goal 5 (Gender Equality), Goal 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth), and Goal 16 (Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions). In fact, a speaker from the World Resources Institute (WRI) at another side event I went to noted that in their research into the linkages between climate action and the SDGs, they had found that every single goal – and the vast majority of targets under the seventeen goals – had some link to climate action.

An exhibit outside the COP on the Sustainable Development Goals

For me, this is reason for hope. I have seen how much buy-in states have to the SDGs framework. If an argument can be made effectively that pursuing climate action is in line with state interests under the 2030 Agenda, I feel that most states will be far more likely to take action. The sheer number of events during first week of the COP focused on this linkage – not to mention a massive exhibit outside on the SDGs and climate action – suggest that many actors have already started to explore this potential.