Connecting the UN´s Sustainable Development Goals & the Paris Climate Agreement

The Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Climate Agreement have come into force. These two frameworks beckon the highest degree of international cooperation and reveal common areas of social, economic and environmental interdependence.

One cannot be achieved without the other. They are symbiotic and must be delivered in tandem. Achieving them requires coordinated implementation across the wide range of interrelated thematic areas. Examining their structure shows that they are built on common foundations. The World Resource Institute has found that of the 169 targets embedded in the sustainable development goals, 154 of them are reinforced by the nationally determined contributions under the Paris Climate Agreement:

Although these two frameworks share a lot in common, they are largely administered in isolation from one another. They involve different secretariats, engage separate communities and use different metrics to measure progress. Given the exorbitant capital and capacity estimates for delivering both frameworks, implementation strategies must be designed with each other in mind.

To kill two birds with one stone, the UN needs to revisit its ´Delivering as One approach´. Its intention is to improve coordination across the UN system to design coherent programs, maximize cross-department impact, while reducing overall costs. For the UN to turn this principle into practice, the SDGs and Paris Climate Agreement provide the UN with a common agenda for all its actors, entities and procedures to work towards.

A good place to start with UN integration is at the Human Rights Council (HRC), which presides over a wide remit of international law, as well as the Universal Periodic Review, which is the most comprehensive and mandatory reporting requirement of all 193 UN member states. The Human Rights Council is afforded the highest authority within the UN to remind states of their international human rights obligations, which is administered through its robust reporting requirements to ensure programs and commitments stay on track. If we view the SDGs and Paris Climate Agreement through the lens of the HRC, we can see that these commitments are based on existing human rights obligations:

  • Over 90% of the targets included in the Sustainable Development Goals have concrete links to human rights instruments and labour standards;
  • The Paris Climate Agreement is the first multilateral environmental agreement, which requires the protection and advancement of human rights.

To ensure harmony, the UN Harmon Rights Council has begun examining how the SDGs and Paris Climate Agreement can be anchored in a system of rights, and corresponding obligations established by international law. A key area under consideration for the 34th Session of the Human Rights Council (27 February – 24 March) is to look at how human rights instruments can be used to monitor the UN´s two flagship global frameworks. An event on 1 March in Geneva will identify how existing expert and peer-review mechanisms mandated by the Human Rights Council and other UN bodies can strengthen accountability across the SDGs and Paris Agreement. Likewise, recommendations will be made on how the review body of the SDGs (High Level Political Forum), and the secretariat of the Paris Climate Agreement (UN Framework Convention on Climate Change), can complement the Universal Periodic Review to ensure UN Member States are held accountable across a gambit of commitments.

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