Climate action has been recognised as the most significant opportunity in the 21st century to advance the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which guide the global, regional and national development efforts of governments worldwide.

By Dr Deepa Pullanikkatil, Commonwealth National Climate Finance Adviser for Fiji and Keshav Dash, Commonwealth National Climate Finance Adviser for Tuvalu.

The SDGs, outlined in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (Agenda 2030), include 17 global goals, covering areas such as poverty eradication, gender equality and climate action. Agenda 2030 was finalised in 2015, the same year the historic Paris Agreement was adopted globally to reduce greenhouse gas emissions under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Both serve as comprehensive policy frameworks that promote country-led implementation processes towards a more resilient and sustainable future for all. However, there has been limited coordination between the two frameworks until as recent as 2020.

This is when countries were required to revise their national climate plans – known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) – as part of the terms of the Paris Agreement. The revision of NDCs offered the opportunity to align climate commitments with sustainable development targets.

Many countries are now mainstreaming climate change into their national development strategies. In particular, a number of Pacific Island nations are taking steps in this direction, enabling a more integrated, cohesive, and comprehensive approach to addressing climate change while advancing national development objectives.

Pacific Islands Aligning NDCs and SDGs

The impacts of climate change are reversing development gains, and this is most evident in the Pacific region. In response, the Pacific Island Countries (PICs) adopted the Framework for Resilient Development in the Pacific in 2016, providing high-level guidance for building resilience to climate impacts, while contributing to sustainable development. Many nations have thus begun aligning their NDCs with SDG targets to enhance policy coherence across sectors, including Fiji and Tuvalu.

Fiji has aligned its NDCs with Agenda 2030, linking them to 14 out of 17 SDGs (all except SDGs 4, 5 and 8). Fiji’s National Development Plan (2017) aims to promote policy coherence, improve planning and implementation, enhance resilience and sustainability, as well as strengthen international cooperation.

The Parliament of Fiji also provides a model for incorporating the SDGs into the legislative processes. For example, comprehensive guidelines have been developed for parliamentary committees to integrate the SDGs into their work effectively and to ensure a legal framework that enables the goals to be achieved through laws that are sensitive to climate change.

Similarly, Tuvalu is aligning its NDCs with the SDGs, primarily focusing on SDGs 7, 8, 12 and 17. This commitment underscores their aims to foster a resilient future for its people while contributing to the global SDG agenda.

Moreover, countries such as Fiji, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu have integrated gender and youth perspectives into NDCs and SDGs to promote equality, empowerment of vulnerable communities and inclusive participation in decision-making processes. These examples highlight the importance of integrating environmental and social considerations into national planning and decision-making processes, fostering a more holistic and comprehensive approach to sustainable development.

Aligning Development and Climate Finance

While aligning NDCs and SDGs is important, it requires funding. Climate finance plays a crucial role in ’building back better’, as adequate funding is vital to support climate action, resilience-building, and sustainable development efforts.

Equally, to build resilience and avoid the reversal of development gains due to climate change, climate action must be integrated into development projects so that the funding supports the necessary climate change outcomes. In other words, aligning development and climate finance is essential to maximise impact. Development projects should be able to access climate funding and climate projects should access development funding.

The Commonwealth Climate Finance Access Hub (CCFAH) is a significant enabler in this regard. By deploying Commonwealth National Climate Finance Advisers to support governments, the CCFAH serves as a catalyst to help vulnerable countries access climate finance to enhance resilience. To date, approximately USD$41 million in climate finance has been secured for the Pacific region, out of more than USD$310 million mobilised overall for Commonwealth small states and vulnerable countries.

Some CCFAH projects are also linked to the Living Lands Charter: A Commonwealth Call to Action on Living Lands (CALL). This initiative supports the alignment of climate action and sustainable development by safeguarding global land resources, taking coordinated action to address climate change, biodiversity loss and land degradation, while promoting sustainable, climate-resilient land management and agriculture.

The year 2023 is significant as it marks the midpoint for Agenda 2030 and as well as the first ‘Global Stock Take’ to evaluate the progress of the Paris Agreement. The latter will take place at the forthcoming UN Climate Change Conference COP28. Meanwhile, the world remains off track to meet targets for both the SDGs/Agenda 2030 and the Paris Agreement, even as record-breaking climate impacts and disasters unfold around the world.

It is, therefore, more important than ever for Commonwealth countries to align climate action and sustainable development in national plans and policies, to leverage the development and climate financing available for real progress.