Summary report, 16 July 2023

Fourth Global Conference on Strengthening Synergies between the Paris Agreement and the 2030 Agenda

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Agreement on climate change—which were both adopted in 2015—set out goals and objectives that contribute to sustainability and resilience for people and planet. Since 2019, a series of climate and SDG synergies conferences have sought to identify ways to maximize action on the interlinkages between these agreements.

The fourth such global conference convened as a special event of the 2023 session of the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) and prior to the SDG Summit and the 28th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC COP 28), which will conduct a Global Stocktake (GST) of progress. The Fourth Global Conference sought to feed into these processes with an assessment of progress made against recommendations from the previous conferences, including the need to include principles of just transition at the center of integrated planning for the implementation of climate action and the SDGs.

In their opening statements, the meeting’s co-hosts highlighted the increasing recognition of SDG-climate synergies and opportunities to further the dialogue, including through G7 and G20 outcomes related to synergies and upcoming events including the Food Systems Stocktaking Moment, the SDG Summit, and the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Ambition Summit. The Third UN Conference on Landlocked Developing Countries (LLDCs) and the fourth International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS4) were also highlighted as opportunities to continue this conversation.

Participants discussed the need to enhance integrative planning and forge links between Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans (NBSAPs), and Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs)—the national reporting processes under the Paris Agreement, Convention on Biological Diversity, and HLPF, respectively. Speakers also highlighted examples of synergies, such as: using biomass for both power generation and forest management; regenerating seaweed in wetlands for biodiversity conservation and carbon sink enhancement; and using eco-disaster risk reduction practices for climate adaptation and community revitalization.

During three parallel discussions, one group that focused on delivering a just transition emphasized the importance of inclusive decision making and ensuring all stakeholders are at the table. The role of a chief science advisor in helping bridge silos in governments was highlighted, as was the need to remember solutions are dependent on context. Participants also emphasized the need to consider additional metrics, such as alternatives to gross domestic product (GDP), and include other treaties, such as the biodiversity and plastics treaties.

Another group considering climate action as an avenue for social and economic change discussed the need for inclusive processes using local bottom-up approaches, sectoral approaches, and early warning systems for disaster avoidance and preparedness.

A final group considering finance and partnerships underscored the need to scale up financing mechanisms, leverage existing mechanisms, redefine how banks measure and manage risk, and harness blended and private finance. Financial literacy was highlighted as crucial, especially at the country level and in the Global South.

The Conference, which took place on 16 July 2023, was co-convened by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA) and the UNFCCC Secretariat, as a special event of the 2023 HLPF. It was attended by 20 Ministers, heads of UN organizations and agencies, and other high-level representatives, as well as paraticipants from business, youth, and academia. Approximately 400 individuals attended in person and close to 4,000 participants joined virtually.

A Brief History of the Climate-SDG Synergies Conferences

The adoption in 2015 of both the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on climate change established a foundation for coherent implementation of climate action and sustainable development objectives across all levels and sectors. The multiple interlinkages between the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement suggest that integrated and synergistic implementation of both would lead to many benefits.

Bearing this in mind, UN DESA and the UNFCCC Secretariat jointly organized a global conference on strengthening synergies between the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement from 1-3 April 2019, in Copenhagen, Denmark. The Conference sought to identify specific examples to illustrate the potential of synergistic and interlinked approaches, analyze gaps and challenges. It also aimed to offer recommendations for strengthening synergies, increasing ambition, advancing implementation action, maximizing co-benefits, stimulating multistakeholder partnerships, ensuring effective use of resources, and avoiding duplication.

UN DESA and the UNFCCC decided to make the conference an annual event, but the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted plans to hold a second conference in person in 2020. Instead, UN DESA and UNFCCC, with the cooperation of the UN Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), co-convened three webinars and launched an e-learning course on the theme of “Harnessing Climate and SDGs Synergies.” The webinars and course outlined options for synergistic policy interventions in different sectors using an integrated nexus approach.

The Third Global Conference on Strengthening the Synergies between the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development convened in Tokyo, Japan, and online from 20-21 July 2022. Speakers noted that quantifying the co-benefits can help build support for action and counter the perception that climate mitigation is somehow too expensive. They also highlighted the relevance of other multilateral processes, including negotiations of the global biodiversity framework, which was still under discussion, and action on desertification and the Ocean

Report of the Meeting

Li Junhua, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, UN DESA, opened the Conference and thanked the UNFCCC Secretariat for co-hosting it. He highlighted that Denmark and Japan hosted previous conferences in this series and stressed the importance of synergies in addressing global challenges. He noted that the Expert Group on Climate and SDG Synergies, which was called for by the Third Global Conference, will be delivering a summary of its work during this conference. Li also called attention to the increasing recognition of the importance of synergies, nincluding by the G7 and G20, and identified further opportunities for this discussion, from the SDG Summit to the first GST under the Paris Agreement and the SDG Pavilion at COP 28.

Simon Stiell, Executive Secretary, UNFCCC, highlighted that meeting the SDGs will strengthen climate action, and vice versa. He called attention to the upcoming review, through the GST, of our collective efforts to meet the Paris Agreement goals. He also highlighted opportunities during upcoming events, including the Food Systems Stocktaking Moment, the SDG Summit, and the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Ambition Summit.

Csaba Kórösi, President, 77th session of the UN General Assembly, recalled how SDG 13 (climate action) was born: through his teenage daughter’s message to delegates that they had “no right to play with our future,” which he said led to including climate in the vision for sustainability transformation. Observing that disregarding obvious synergies wastes time and money, he urged breaking down fences between policymakers and the scientific community and leveraging synergies. He called for integrating lessons learned into policies, regulations, and investments.

Statements of Ministers, High-level Representatives and Heads of UN Agencies

Akira Yanagimoto, Japan’s Parliamentary Vice-Minister of the Environment, emphasized the importance of synergistic actions in achieving the SDGs. He illustrated examples such as: using biomass for both power generation and forest management; regenerating seaweed in wetlands for biodiversity conservation and carbon sink enhancement; using eco-disaster risk reduction practices for climate adaptation and community revitalization; and designating over 100 areas as “decarbonization leaders” to demonstrate achieving economic growth is possible while solving climate and social issues. He urged replicating best practices.

Lotte Machon, State Secretary for Development Policy, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Denmark, on behalf of Nordic countries, said linking the climate and SDG agendas is imperative. She noted climate action is the greatest opportunity to drive forward progress on all SDGs, but to do this, urgent action is needed. This, she said, includes efforts to break down silos and exploit synergies between the two agendas. She called for future investment and finance plans to have high social returns and reduce emissions. She said action on all levels by all stakeholders is required to leave no one behind.

Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana, Executive Secretary, UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, noted insufficient progress in meeting both SDG 13 (climate action) and SDG 7 (affordable and clean energy). She said clean energy is where the Asia-Pacific region can capitalize on its strength, given its role in both manufacturing and consuming clean energy. She explained that energy efficiency is an area with great potential for the region but that stronger policy action from governments is needed. She noted regional action has included an agreement for cross-border power grid connection between countries to allow for more sharing of renewable energy resources across countries.

Maimunah Mohd Sharif, Executive Director, UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), stressed that the climate crisis is an urban challenge and one of five transformative action points for addressing global urban issues. She also highlighted the need for adequate and affordable housing, localization of the SDGs, and adequate financing.

Rabab Fatima, UN High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States, called attention to synergies among the 2030 Agenda, Paris Agreement, and Programme of Action for Least Developed Countries. She also mentioned the upcoming Third UN Conference on LLDCs and SIDS4, both of which will take place in 2024. 

Majid Al Suwaidi, Director-General of UNFCCC COP 28 and United Arab Emirates (UAE) Special Representative, noted that synergies between the Paris Agreement and SDGs inform the UAE’s approach to COP 28, which calls for a clean energy transition and the “inevitable phasedown of fossil fuels in a responsible and just manner.” He highlighted the UAE’s recently announced four priorities for COP 28: fast-tracking the energy transition; fixing climate finance; focusing on lives and livelihoods; and inclusivity and stakeholder engagement.

Antonio Augusto Junho Anastasia, Minister, Federal Court of Accounts and Supreme Audit Institution (SAI) of Brazil, emphasized SAIs’ critical role in advancing sustainable development. He said SAIs, as independent institutions, enhance transparency and accountability in government by providing oversight of public budgets, government accounts, and environmental asset management. He described a global initiative called Climate Scanner, which provides reliable information to increase government transparency and accountability and ensure the effective use of resources.

Verónica Tomei, Commissioner for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Nuclear Safety, and Consumer Protection, Germany, identified three priorities:

  • policies that deliver on multiple goals simultaneously such as new urban transformation, including through nature-based solutions to reduce water-related climate risks;
  • a whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach, noting the German delegation includes representatives of government, parliament, youth, and civil society; and
  • common action at the national and multilateral levels, highlighting the adoption of a national water policy that includes all sectors and advocacy for the outcomes from the UN 2023 Water Conference.

Romina Khursheed Alam, Member of Parliament, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister of Pakistan, and Convener of the SDGs Task Force of Pakistan, recalled the 2022 floods that affected 33 million people. He said while these challenges threaten the country’s prosperity, strategies focusing on renewable energy, education, and gender equality have been implemented to ameliorate negative effects. She said the SDG Task Force works to improve legislation, enhance accountability, and play an active role in the global discourse on climate change and sustainable development, and called for knowledge sharing.

 Martha Wangari, Member of Parliament, Kenya, said her government had updated its NDC to commit to abate greenhouse gases (GHGs) and develop sector-specific plans. She stressed the importance of providing adequate means of implementation. She called attention to the opportunity to further the discussion during the African Climate Summit in Nairobi in September.

Inger Andersen, Executive Director, UN Environment Programme (UNEP), cautioned that the SDGs are faltering as the international community fails to address biodiversity and pollution and waste challenges along with climate change. She stressed the need to halve GHG emissions, increase energy efficiency and the use of nature-based solutions, and ensure a just transition as the economy shifts.

Fatou Haidara, Deputy Director-General, United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), provided highlights of UNIDO’s work, including: leveraging USD 2 billion in private financing for climate and clean energy projects; creating tools to facilitate the adoption of green hydrogen; and harmonizing standards for low-carbon steel and cement. She said UNIDO considers innovation, infrastructure, and new emerging technologies as priority enablers.

Scene-setting Presentations

Youba Sokona, Expert Group on Climate and SDG Synergies and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Vice-Chair, presented the latest IPCC findings on climate and sustainable development. He emphasized: every bit of warming matters; said analyzing all SDGs in light of climate adaptation and mitigation is important; and enablers for effective climate action include political commitment, inclusive governance, international cooperation, effective ecosystem stewardship, and sharing of diverse knowledge.

Kazuhiko Takeuchi, President, Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES), presented the report of the Third Global Synergies Conference, held in Tokyo in 2022. He reported the main findings of the conference included:

  • synergies are urgently needed to achieve the SDGs and the Paris Agreement;
  • whole-of-government and whole-of-society approaches can inject momentum into synergies;
  • just transitions that leave no one behind are critical to achieving synergies and avoiding trade-offs, including by engaging the public and creating forums to encourage their participation; and
  • enhancing capacity to pursue synergistic implementation is critical, and requires increasing the quantity and quality of human resources.

Recommendations, Takeuchi said, included calling for enhancing the evidence base to encourage synergistic action and convening multistakeholder dialogues at all levels. He also highlighted the need to enhance integrative planning and forge links between NDCs, NBSAPs, and VNRs—the national reporting processes under the Paris Agreement, Convention on Biological Diversity and HLPF, respectively.

Luis Gomez Echeverri, Emeritus Research Scholar, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), and Co-Lead of the Expert Group on Climate and SDG Synergies, and Diana Ȕrge-Vorsatz, Director, Center for Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Policy, Central European University, and Member of the Expert Group on Climate and SDG Synergies, presented a brief summary of the report of the Expert Group that was created following the Third Global Synergies Conference. They reported that only 23 of 173 NDCs reference SDGs, but none go into detail about how climate policy affects their achievement. A few examples of best practices were identified; for example, the UK’s NDC discusses a programme for residential energy efficiency that notes health co-benefits. They further identified barriers to climate and SDG synergies:

  • insufficient and fragmented knowledge;
  • economic shortcomings, with limited national and local budgeting to address synergies; and 
  • political challenges, with limited transparency in national implementation responsibilities and a lack of consistency in commitments to equity, gender, and equality, among others.

The Expert Group identified solutions, including adopting a structured approach to understand and organize complex information on the relevant interconnected social, economic, technological, and ecological systems. The Group’s report also proposes that a framework for action should promote action that is transformative, context-sensitive, seeks to leave no one behind, and is designed through inclusive processes.

Panel Discussion with Distinguished Stakeholder Representatives

Opening this panel discussion, moderator James Grabert, Director, Mitigation Division, UNFCCC, highlighted the need for integrated planning and coherent policies.

Ahmed Owda, Major Group of Children and Youth, recalled the need for the full engagement of young people in implementation and called for universal and meaningful youth engagement in the upcoming Climate Ambition Summit. He also emphasized the need for safety of our young people and environment defenders.

Nawal Al-Hosany, UAE Permanent Representative to the International Renewable Energy Agency, gave examples of how the SDGs can help deliver climate co-benefits. She described the UAE’s SDG Young Leaders Programme and the Global Council, which galvanizes innovative partnerships and produces research to advance understanding of social, economic, and human challenges. She also described the UAE’s national climate change adaptation programme, which combines action on its “net zero by 2050” commitment with action on various SDGs related to health, clean energy, sustainable cities, climate, and biodiversity.

Tulio Andrade, Climate Negotiations Head, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Brazil, recalled that the sustainable development and climate change regimes were both born in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992. He underscored poverty eradication and zero hunger as core to Brazil’s climate priorities. He said all ministries are incorporating climate in policymaking. He noted Brazil’s plan to control deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has climate and SDG synergies at its core, emphasizing sustainable livelihoods and bioeconomy as key components. He looked forward to Brazil hosting the Summit of the Amazon in August 2024 and UNFCCC COP 30 in Belem in 2025.

Martin Whittaker, Founder and CEO, JUST Capital, stated that 50% of the 1000 largest publicly listed companies have committed to net-zero emissions. He underscored the strong business case for embedding climate and sustainability in the core of their business. He said, however, data is needed on the physical impacts of climate change to enable capital to be allocated and flow more freely. He highlighted two initiatives in this regard: the G7 Impact Taskforce and the Business Commission to Tackle Inequality, an initiative of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. He pointed to significant business and market interest to address the themes of the conference and urged close collaboration going forward.

Doreen Harris, President and CEO, New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, said New York State has a goal to reduce GHG emissions by 25% by 2050, saying this will require a different way of doing business. She stated that this includes addressing how benefits accrue to underserved communities and how investments are directed to communities. She noted the just transition working group addresses how to enable the transition in a just and equitable manner, noting they look at how communities can be used to design programmes and policies. She explained that there are both hard challenges—infrastructure—and soft challenges—social, political, and psychological barriers. She said these must be addressed with the private and public sectors working in concert to build replicable models.

Parallel Sessions

A Just, Equitable and Net-zero Transition – How to Get It Right? Diana Ȕrge-Vorsatz, Member of the Expert Group on Climate and SDG Synergies, moderated the session.

Sakhile Silitshena, Head of Science, Policy and Governance, Convention on Biological Diversity, noted that targets in the Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) address climate change, including through harnessing nature-based solutions. She stressed the need to address SDG 7 (affordable and clean energy) while not negatively impacting biodiversity. She suggested developing packages of solutions aimed at addressing mitigation in an integrated manner and in the same way that the SDGs and GBF were developed.  

Nebojsa Nakicenovic, Member of the Group of Chief Scientific Advisors, European Commission, and former IIASA Deputy Director, suggested acting on the promise of leaving no one behind by building capacities and capabilities at all levels. He recalled the six transformations need to drive implementation of the 2030 Agenda (digital revolution; smart cities and mobility; food, biosphere, and water; decarbonization and energy; consumption and production; and human capacity demography and health) and stressed that these six items should be clearly communicated.

During a roundtable, speakers noted that ministries are compartmentalized and do not necessarily think about how they relate to other ministries. Many speakers noted the importance of context, engaging stakeholders in decision making, and recognizing that some stakeholders may need support to participate in consultations. Speakers highlighted the need to ensure workers are retrained and educated. They also noted a variety of sectors in which just transitions are needed, including transportation, agriculture, and small-herder farmers.

One speaker noted that countries with science advisory mechanisms have the most success in breaking down barriers. A participant pointed out the need for coherence between objectives in the North—such as increasing the number of electric vehicles—with objectives in the South, related to mining critical minerals required for use in electric vehicles.

Climate Action As an Avenue for Social and Economic Change – How to Get All Stakeholders on Board? Kaveh Guilanpour, Member of Expert Group on Climate and SDG Synergies, and Vice-President for International Strategies, Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, moderated the session.

Ambassador Giovanna Valverde Stark, Ambassador of Costa Rica to Kenya, Permanent Representative of Costa Rica to UNEP and UN-Habitat, and Co-Chair of the Board of the 10-Year Framework of Programmes on Sustainable Consumption and Production (10YFP), outlined the 10YFP, stating its importance to achieving synergies between climate change and sustainable development. She underscored that managing these issues requires solid national institutions as well as the right policies and incentives, highlighting the Costa Rican national strategies for the circular economy and blue carbon.

Moustapha Kamal Gueye, International Labour Organization, said synergies can lead to a positive narrative on jobs and social justice. He noted the just transition is an enabler of ambition and presented a framework for action on the just transition. He said supporting policies with dedicated financing is necessary to maximize wealth creation and minimize social disruption.

Norichika Kanie, Professor, Graduate School of Media and Governance, Keio University, spoke on the 2023 Global Sustainable Development Report (GSDR), stating its key message is that transformation is possible and inevitable. He spoke about levers to accelerate transformation, citing the importance of nurturing innovation, giving strategic direction, and providing foresight capacity. He said the report considered SDG interlinkages, noting they are context-specific and can be used to widen stakeholder engagement.

In the ensuing discussion, participants considered:

  • challenges presented by reporting, data, and metrics, noting different formats are required across different platforms;
  • inclusion of job plans for the just transition and for NDCs submitted to the UNFCCC;
  • the need to shift from managing disasters to managing risks, including new and emerging risks around climate change;
  • water as an important aspect of achieving both the SDGs and climate goals;
  • empowering cities to address climate change and harness the positive impacts of migration;
  • the adoption of the 2023 strategy to reduce GHG emissions from ships; and
  • the importance of local communities to move both climate action and the 2030 Agenda forward.

Unlocking Finance and Partnerships for Climate and SDG Action – How Can It Be Done? Meagan Fallone, Founder, Step-Up Advisers and CARE Entrepreneur-in-Residence, moderated this session. She said the panel would explore the failure of finance to genuinely enable needed action for climate and the SDGs, the banking and financial sectors’ inability to redefine risk, and the need for innovation, such as through debt restructuring and forgiveness.

Åsa Persson, Deputy Director, Stockholm Environment Institute, and member of the Independent Group of Scientists preparing the GSDR, presented on various tools to analyze climate and SDG linkages. She underscored 2023 is a crucial stocktake year, being the halfway point for SDG achievement and for the first GST under the Paris Agreement, warning the world is far off-track on both. She explained three kinds of tools are already available, namely: trackers of policies and progress; analytical and modelling tools; and tools that enable participation, joint learning, and collaboration. She called for establishing an SDG transformation framework, building capacity for transformation, managing interlinkages, improving critical underlying conditions for SDG implementation, and using science.

The ensuing roundtable included discussions on:

  • finance being the most highly requested area of support, and support entailing three types of partnerships: country-level, public-private, and global partnerships;
  • four items critical to enhancing synergies between climate change and the SDGs: ensuring coherence and coordination across policies; regular measurement of progress; greater investment in actions that reinforce the linkages; and building local-level capacity;
  • the need for blended capital, derisking to unlock private finance, and investment platforms to mainstream South-South and North-South cooperation;
  • various types of trust and partnership funds like the UN Fund for South-South Cooperation and crowdfunding platforms like the Galaxy platform;
  • the need to develop: the right skills among the right people, including youth and women; better policies and frameworks; innovative business models to ensure finance flows to communities; and consumer knowledge to improve decision making;
  • the importance of making a good business case for climate and the SDGs to incentivize entrepreneurs to invest; and
  • financial literacy as a crucial enabler for the SDGs and climate action.

Questions related to: how to redefine risk and set up derisking mechanisms to unlock capital; how to secure bank guarantees for project implementation; how to ensure finance flows to those most in need and how to include the most marginalized in decision-making processes; how to raise finance for loss and damage; and how to stop finance for fossil fuels and instead channel them to renewable energy, adaptation, and loss and damage.

Closing Plenary

Bahareh Seyedi, Senior Sustainable Development Officer, UN DESA, presented the Conference Summary by the Co-Conveners, Delievering a Just Transition Throught Climate and SDG Synergies, which highlights the following actions for the way forward:

  • renew leadership and political commitment to accelerated action on the SDGs and the Paris Agreement goals in the next decade;
  • deepen the evidence base and analytical work related to synergies and trade-offs across sectors;
  • ensure integration of just transition in development and implementation of countries’ national climate plans and development strategies;
  • take into account existing inequalities in the provision of financial and technical support to enable just transitions;
  • strengthen multi-stakeholder cooperation and dialogue at all levels; and
  • leverage intergovernmental processes to enhance integrated approaches and synergistic action.

James Grabert, Director, Mitigation Division, UNFCCC, noted the Conference afforded participants the opportunity to reflect on SDG and climate synergies and consider how they contribute to a course correction. He called for using this opportunity to break down silos, enhance radical collaboration, and think of synergetic actions for a just transition. He urged using information gathered from the Conference to rapidly accelerate climate action and achieve the SDGs.

Minoru Takada, Team Leader on Energy, UN DESA, thanked all participants, the Ministry of Environment of Japan and IGES, colleagues from UN organizations, and the co-convenors—the UNFCCC Secretariat and UN DESA.

Takada and Grabert jointly gaveled the event to a close at 4:45 pm.

Further information