Helen Clark: Speech on Climate Change and the Sustainable Development Goals

Dec 7, 2015

Thank you for inviting me to address this Sustainable Innovation Forum.

This is a huge year for sustainable development, with a big, bold new global agenda, Agenda 2030 and seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), launched by world leaders in September. It will be a great year for sustainable development if COP-21 here in Paris delivers a new global agreement on climate change. Sustainable development cannot be achieved without decisive action to adapt to and mitigate climate change. That’s why Agenda 2030 has a dedicated Goal, SDG 13 on taking “urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts”[1].

This Goal urges the international community to:

  • “strengthen resilience and adaptive capacity to climate-related hazards and natural disasters in all countries”;
  • “integrate climate change measures into national policies, strategies and planning”;
  • “improve education, awareness-raising and human and institutional capacity on climate change mitigation, adaptation, impact reduction and early warning”; and to
  • implement the previous commitment by developed countries under the UNFCCC to the goal of mobilizing $100 billion in climate finance annually by 2020

Goal 13 also recognizes the need to build capacity for tackling climate change in Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States (SIDS), with a particular focus on women, youth, and local and marginalized communities.

Taken together with the outcomes from other major global meetings this year, including in Sendai, Japan, on disaster risk reduction and in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on financing for development, the new SDGs and the agreement we hope will come from Paris will guide sustainable development and climate action over the next fifteen years.

So, what are the challenges?

Climate change threatens to increase the frequency and severity of natural disasters – which have already cost the global economy $2 trillion over the last twenty years.

Already the world is witnessing more frequent severe weather events, changing rain fall patterns, and sea level rise. A disproportionate burden from these events is being carried by the poorest and most vulnerable people, and by vulnerable countries which lack the means to adapt to what is happening.  

Small Island Developing States are seeing the encroachment of sea water on their lands and ground water, and are threatened by more intense storms, as we have seen this year in Vanuatu, Bahamas, and Dominica. In drought-prone regions like the Sahel and the Horn of Africa, food insecurity and poor harvests become more frequent. Many cities feel the impacts in more migration from climate-stressed regions and public services and infrastructure under pressure. More people are living in urban locations exposed to extreme weather events.   

Deforestation and unsustainable energy practices are increasing greenhouse gas emissions fast, and further exacerbating climate challenges. Failure to invest in low carbon development locks countries into unsustainable, high emission development pathways – far from the low carbon, climate-resilient future the world needs.

So what are the opportunities for action?

Tackling climate change presents opportunities for green growth and jobs, new sources of exports, and stimulation of trade and innovation. The  Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), which are so central to reaching agreement here in Paris, can drive low emission development through a determination to preserve and increase forest cover, and to invest in renewable energy, energy efficiency, and sustainable transport, waste management, cities, and ways of producing and consuming.

So, what needs to be done?

First, climate action needs to be integrated into all development planning. This is not something separate from planning for sustainable development.

UNDP has worked directly with 43 countries to finalize their INDCs. In doing so, we have worked to ensure that these climate action commitments build on local and national development objectives, plans, and strategies, and are realistic and actionable. Acting on the INDCs will help drive sustainable development by encouraging all countries to pursue a low carbon future and the mitigation actions required to get there.  

Second, innovative solutions are needed for the twin climate and development challenges, and we can build on what is already proven to work in delivering low-carbon, climate-resilient growth. For example:

  • In India, where steel production is a major source of emissions, UNDP is working with local producers, many of them family businesses, to upgrade equipment and the mode of production in ways which both lower emissions and produce cost-savings – that’s a win-win for climate and development.
  • In Uruguay,[2] UNDP partnered with the Government and the private sector to develop an innovative policy framework for attracting private sector investment into the wind energy sector. This substantially reduced the risks of investing in the sector, and contributed to lower retail tariffs for consumers. A $30 million investment by UNDP and the Global Environment Facility catalysed $2 billion in private sector investment and resulted in seventeen wind farms. This initiative contributes to a long-term low carbon energy pathway for Uruguay.

Third, climate action is a whole of society concern. The role of governments – national and local – is vital, but other stakeholders, including the private sector and civil society, must play their part too. For example, how business does business will be critical in determining whether countries’ climate action plans succeed.

In Uganda, UNDP has worked with the Government, the private sector, academic researchers, and civil society groups at the community level to assess the impact of climate variations on the coffee sector, a critical source of livelihoods and contributor to the national GDP. It became clear that minor climate changes would impact on the quality and quantity of coffee beans produced. Adaptation to that will include improving storage for harvested beans, irrigating the land, and planting more climate-resilient coffee varieties. Such moves will enable local communities to maintain this important economic sector.

Fourth, adequate finance is needed for adaptation, mitigation, and sustainable development overall, and countries need support to build the capacity to navigate and access the complexities of the different financing streams

UNDP supports countries to identify and attract the public and private finance they need for low carbon, climate-resilient development, and climate change adaptation. We help put in place the institutions, policies, and legislative, regulatory, and budgetary frameworks which enable countries to catalyze and deploy the various sources of finance available.

What Role will UNDP play in Post-2015 Action?

UNDP has more than two decades of experience of climate change work in more than 140 countries. We work to advance development and climate objectives simultaneously. We are well placed now to support ambitious climate action as part of the drive to achieve the SDGs and implement the INDCs. We are dedicated to working with all stakeholders from governments to the private sector, other international organizations, NGOs, and civil society to make this a reality. 

Next year, we will focus on:

  • supporting countries with the implementation of the 43 INDCs of which we have supported the preparation, and
  • providing support to more than 100 countries to access finance and undertake adaptation and mitigation measures.


As the UN Secretary-General has said, our generation is the first which could actually eradicate extreme poverty, and the last able to prevent catastrophic climate change.

This week a new global and ambitious climate deal, which would complement Agenda 2030 and the SDGs, should be realized here in Paris. A climate safe and secure future on this planet hangs in the balance.

Our world has the resources, technology, and knowledge to rise to the climate and sustainable development challenges. Now these must be applied to implementation of a new climate agreement and the SDGs. This will require big partnerships across all sectors. UNDP will be a full and committed player in driving the action required.






[1] A footnote to SDG 13 states: “Acknowledging that the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is the primary international, intergovernmental forum for negotiating the global response to climate change.”

[2] Source: http://www.undp-alm.org/projects/dc-uruguay-tacc