Sustainable pathways should not leave the most vulnerable behind

Without integrated policies and international assistance to the less fortunate regions, the pursuit of climate targets could make developing countries slip back on key Sustainable Development Goals.

Developing countries cannot afford to tackle climate change without partnership assistance and knowledge transfer from richer regions, a new study concludes.

The study examines the trade-offs and synergies between the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for three different climate change mitigation scenarios up to 2050.

"We looked at how the different Sustainable Development Goals are evolving in a non-sustainable scenario without climate targets, and under the two sustainable scenarios aiming to limit global temperature rise to 2°C and 1.5°C. We also studied the synergies and trade-offs between the different SDGs in all three scenarios", JRC researcher Robert M’barek explains.

The analysis recognises that the sustainable pathways would bring undisputable benefits in terms of lower global temperature rises, lower pressure on land and water use, and improvements in ecosystem services and biodiversity.

However, the study reveals that some climate protection measures - if ill-designed or implemented in isolation from other policies - could lead to increased food prices, poverty and higher levels of malnutrition in the poorest parts of the world, further widening the gap between the world’s wealthiest and poorest regions.

The business-as-usual scenario is unthinkable

At the same time, going for the unsustainable scenario where no efforts are made to limit carbon emissions and global warming would be unthinkable.

The unlimited use of fossil fuels and uncontrolled carbon emissions have the potential to increase the per capita income and improve food security in developing countries on the medium term.

However, the rising global temperatures and carbon emissions would inevitably lead to land degradation and water shortages, which are already particularly acute in the poorest regions, including Sub-Saharan Africa.

The solution: integrated policies and international assistance

The study calls for integrated decision-making where interlinkages between economic, societal and environmental factors are taken into consideration.

"Our results do not negate the need for climate mitigation efforts, but rather highlight the need for global policy designs that explicitly include complementary measures in order to avoid an increase in inequality, hunger and malnutrition," lead author George Philippidis comments.

The study recognises that this integrated approach is already evident in the EU’s Green Deal, where the aim of establishing a socially fair transition places the SDGs at the heart of concerted EU action.

Investing in education and improving the access to reproductive health services are seen as important in terms of limiting population growth, which is an important driver in all scenarios.

In addition, measures aiming at increased land productivity and crop yield improvements, supported by capacity building and unfettered trade access to richer markets, are important for tackling global food insecurity.

Finally, it is important that in their pursuit of climate targets, richer countries do not leave the most vulnerable behind.

"It is fundamental that richer countries collectively commit to cooperative schemes, for example, even greater burden sharing of emissions, as pledged within the Paris Agreement", George concludes.

The EU and its Member States are already the leading provider of development assistance to Africa. The new Partnership Agreement between the EU and Africa, expected to be concluded in the second half of 2020, proposes a comprehensive framework for a future partnership to achieve common goals and to tackle global challenges, including the green transition.

About the study

The study was conducted jointly by the JRC, Wageningen Economic Research (part of Wageningen University and Research (WUR)) and the Research institutes of ARAID-CITA, Zaragoza, Spain.

Using a global economic simulation model called MAGNET (Modular Applied GeNeral Equilibrium Tool), it examines the synergies and trade-offs between the SDGs for the three climate scenarios, within three broader areas: economy, society and the biosphere, i.e. the global ecological system.

The first climate scenario is a non-sustainable scenario purely driven by market forces, which does not place a limit to the temperature rise or foresee a reduction in global CO2 emissions.

The other two scenarios are sustainable pathways, which limit the temperature rise respectively to 2°C and 1.5°C above the preindustrial levels by 2100.

The latter two scenarios foresee an increase in energy efficiency to decouple economic growth from energy consumption, a shift towards more electrification and decarbonisation of energy through the adoption of (bio)renewables.

The 'economy' related SDGs are linked to per capita income and employment, the ‘society’ SDGs to well-being, food security, nutrition and renewable energy market developments, and ‘biosphere’ SDGs to emission trends, agricultural land use and water use.

The study further measures the impact of drivers such as GDP growth, population growth, labour force changes, global fossil fuel price and increase in carbon tax on the SDG outcomes, as well as their contribution to the synergies and trade-offs in the three climate scenarios.

Further information