Climate action and sustainable development are in the spotlight at UNGA

18 September 2023

A week of high-profile events is taking place at the 78th high-level session of the UN General Assembly in New York.  World leaders, policymakers and civil society actors will assess progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and push for greater action to tackle climate change.

“We have to start bending this emission growth curve as a matter of urgency and we have to get rid of coal, oil and natural gas. And we have to stop deforestation, especially in Amazonian and Central African region,” said WMO Secretary-General Prof. Petteri Taalas in a video interview with the Climate Group.

“The prices of solar and green energy, and the prices of batteries are dropping. And its more attractive to invest in solar and wind energy,” said Prof. Taalas. The video Facing the New Reality, was broadcast at the start of the New York Climate Week – which coincides with the General Assembly.

A high-level meeting on the Goals, known by the shorthand 'SDG Summit', on 18-19 September aims to revitalize action for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which set 2030 as the deadline for realizing the Goals. At the midway point, with the world far off-track from doing so, hopes are high that the Summit’s Political Declaration will rekindle the world’s ambition.

Leaders adopted a decisive, action-oriented political declaration at the Summit, highlighting their collective commitment to build a sustainable, inclusive and prosperous world by 2030.

“The SDGs aren’t just a list of goals. They carry the hopes, dreams, rights and expectations of people everywhere,” said UN Secretary-General António Guterres. “Yet today, only 15 per cent of the targets are on track. Many are going in reverse. Instead of leaving no one behind, we risk leaving the SDGs behind.”

Tens of millions have fallen into poverty since 2020. Over 110 million people are forcibly displaced. Inequalities have worsened, strikingly so for women and girls. Many governments are forced to choose between debt payments and investing in healthcare and education. The climate emergency is wreaking havoc on lives and livelihoods. Developing countries and the world’s most vulnerable people continue to bear the brunt of these crises.

A new multi-agency United in Science report said that the planet is far off track from meeting its climate goals. This undermines global efforts to tackle hunger, poverty and ill-health, improve access to clean water and energy and many other aspects of sustainable development.

The report, coordinated by WMO, makes a systematic examination of the impact of climate change and extreme weather on the goals. It illustrates how weather, climate and water-related sciences can advance aims such as food and water security, clean energy, better health, sustainable oceans and resilient cities.

“Science is central to solutions. It is widely understood that weather, climate, and water-related sciences provide the underpinnings for climate action. But it is less recognized how these sciences can supercharge progress on the SDGs across the board,” António Guterres writes in the foreword.

Lauren Stuart, WMO Scientific Officer, presented the findings of the report at the science and academic segment of the SDG Action Weekend on 16 September. WMO also participated in the Climate and SDG Synergies session, highlighting the need for better water information and management to help mitigate climate change.

Indonesia's Permanent Representative with WMO, Prof. Dwikorita Karnawati, attended a Women Rise for All event hosted by UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed. The event focuses on women's leadership and progress for the SDGs.  

UNDSG Amina Mohammed, former New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinta Arden, Princess Mabel of Orange-Nassau, Prof. Dwikorita Karnawati, Dianne van Furstenberg attending the UNGA Women Arise event
From left to right: UNDSG Amina Mohammed, former New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinta Arden, Princess Mabel of Orange-Nassau, Prof. Dwikorita Karnawati, Dianne van Furstenberg attending the UNGA Women Arise event.

Mr Guterres has convened the Climate Ambition Summit on September 20 to bring together leaders in the realms of government, business, finance, local authorities, and civil society considered “first movers and doers”.

These leaders are recognized for their credible actions, policies, and plans aimed at upholding the 1.5°C degree goal outlined in the Paris Agreement. Their efforts also focus on delivering climate justice to those individuals and communities on the front lines of the climate crisis.

The global Early Warnings for All initiative will be in the spotlight at the Climate Ambition Summit, which will seek to galvanize financial and political support to achieve the goal to reach every person on Earth with early warning systems by the end of 2027.

The urgency of climate action has been underlined by the spate of extreme weather events, including the deadly flooding in Libya which claimed thousands of lives. Earth just had the hottest three months on record, and there is particular alarm over the high sea surface temperatures and record low Antarctic sea ice extent.