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  1. SDGs
  2. SDG 13, Climate Action
September 6, 2023

Explainer: What is SDG13?

Climate Action, SDG13, aims to motivate innovation and education on climate change. However, there still lacks global political consensus of its importance.

By Silvia Pellegrino

SDG13, Climate change
Last chance to act. The peak of global greenhouse gas emissions must be reached by 2025 in order to comply with the Paris Agreement. (Image by Michel Bednarek via Shutterstock)
  • SDG13 focuses on “Climate Action”, and it is supported by education and actions towards climate commitments.
  • However, the total number of countries included in the national climate plans is 193, meaning that 63 have not set a 2050 net-zero target yet.
  • The US is divided. 50% of House Republicans, 60% of Senate Republicans and one-quarter of the total number of elected officials are climate change deniers.

Since pre-industrial times, the average temperature of the Earth has increased by 1.1C, melting glaciers and raising sea levels. 

Now, the effects of climate change have begun to take an increasingly human toll. Millions of people have been uprooted, leaving them in poverty and without access to basic services like healthcare and education, along with widening social disparities, stunted economic progress and even inciting conflict. 

Roughly 700 million people might suffer migration risks by 2030 due to drought-related occurrences alone. 

If there is any hope of combating these effects, the peak of global greenhouse gas emissions must be reached by 2025 in order to comply with the Paris Agreement’s mandate to keep temperature increases to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels. It is now crucial to achieve a 43% decrease by 2030 and complete carbon neutrality by 2050. 

Through their unique contributions, nations are establishing policies to lower emissions and increase resilience to climate change. Despite these efforts, the 1.5C objective cannot be met with present national promises. 

Thanks to the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals, the leaders of the world are starting to mobilise the economy and resources to reverse or at least slow down the impact that global warming and climate change have on both society and biodiversity

The 13th goal, Climate Action, aims to motivate more innovation and education on the matter, by creating new jobs in the sustainable market and by introducing more renewable energy consensus overall. 

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What is SDG13?

SDG13 focuses on “Climate Action”, and it is supported by education and actions towards climate commitments. For instance, community initiatives and personal choices can influence extreme weather events such as floods and droughts, that are threatening the Earth more and more every day.

In order to comply with SDGs’ purpose by 2030, SDG13 has five distinct targets:

  • Bettering and strengthening resilience to climate disasters in all countries.
  • Reshaping policies to include climate change measures.
  • Working on education and awareness-raising academically and institutionally for climate change mitigation and adaptation.
  • Respecting the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s goal to mobilise $100bn annually to help developing countries against the impact of climate change and operationalise the Green Climate Fund.
  • Raising climate change-related planning and management in less developed countries.

Nathan Goode, chief strategy officer of Social Value Portal, told Capital Monitor that “SDG13 is essentially the glue that holds individual initiatives and actions on climate change together, and the link through to the social dimension to the SDGs. It is probably the most important and the most challenging of the Goals because it requires coordinated, coherent and sustained responses to climate change across all dimensions of society.”

The main points of action revolving around this Sustainable Goal regard recycling, composting, choosing reusable products, avoiding driving a car when public transport or alternatives are available, consuming less animal products and reducing paper usage. Indeed, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) shared that a rapid and sustained overall reduction in greenhouse gas emissions is a vital element for the achievement of the 2030 objectives.

The United Nations stated: “Urgent and transformative action is crucial, going beyond mere plans and promises. It requires raising ambition, covering entire economies and moving towards climate-resilient development, while outlining a clear path to achieve net-zero emissions. Time is running out, and immediate measures are necessary to avoid catastrophic consequences and secure a sustainable future for generations to come.”

Are Western leaders weakening on climate change?

The Center for American Progress published a study in 2021 stating that 139 out of 535 members of the 117th Congress are completely opposed to the acknowledgement of the existence of climate change. Among other Republican Party officeholders, however, over 50% of House Republicans, 60% of Senate Republicans and one-quarter of the total number of elected officials are still climate change deniers.

Multiple leaders in the US have dismissed the issue in 2023 too, with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis telling Fox News: “I’ve always rejected the politicisation of the weather” and claiming that climate change is only a pretext for “left-wing stuff”.

Tim Scott, senator for South Carolina, also added to the climate change discourse, stating: “There is no doubt that [it] is having an impact on our environment. There is no doubt about that. I am not living under a rock.” But he also told Fox News that it is “ridiculous to talk about a climate change emergency when we have a border emergency that is an existential threat right now”. 

These are just some examples of Western leaders’ positions regarding climate change and the emergent situation we are all living in. In contrast, Pew Research Center statistics show that the general American population, unlike its leaders, does support prioritising renewable energy sources, with 69% of people favouring the country becoming carbon neutral by 2050. 

Overall, even though there is a general consensus about the US augmenting its efforts to reduce the effects of climate change (74% of those surveyed), it is still evident how “climate change is a lower priority for Americans than other national issues” according to the study.

Europe, on the other hand, is less divided than America. Since 2014, its leaders have realised that there need to be specific measures in place to reduce emissions. The first objective was to reduce emissions by 20% by 2020 and, after achieving this objective, the continent endorsed a EU binding target of a net domestic reduction of at least 55% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels. 

Funds such as the Innovation Fund financed through the emissions trading system and the Modernisation Fund also play a part in the efforts of Europe and its leaders. 

Despite its political divides, the US is one of more than 130 countries that have set a target in order to reach net zero by 2050. Indeed, the US introduced the Pathways to Net-Zero Greenhouse Gas Emissions by 2050 plan. However, the total number of countries included in the national climate plans is 193, meaning that 63 have not set a 2050 net-zero target yet. There is still hope that all the remaining governments will invest in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to tackle emissions

Alongside the US, the UK, Norway, France and New Zealand also expressed their commitment to net zero. In particular, the UK is already in the process of mitigating the impacts of climate change. 

Recent developments in green technology and infrastructure are behind the country’s changing economic makeup. For example, the manufacturing industry today has a significantly smaller impact on the environment thanks to biodegradable products and the use of renewable energy. The transport industry, additionally, has also improved its sustainability by manufacturing electric vehicles with net zero emissions. Alongside these two main industries, other instances of greener sectors are construction, farming and even finance, thanks to green bond investing. 

However, the UK is still one of the major contributors to global warming, signalling that perhaps a more impactful and drastic strategy is needed. “In the UK, the frustrations of the Climate Change Committee, which must have been building for some time, have spilt out into the open,” Goode said. 

Indeed, CCC Chairman Lord Deben stated, in a report to Parliament, that, “This year, the government has published more detail on their climate programme than ever before. But Ministers seem less willing to put that programme at the centre of their stated aims.” Proof of this lies in former Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero Grant Shapps’s testimony that the UK government is on track to “max out” the country’s remaining reserves of North Sea oil and gas. 

In order to get back on track and respect the commitments established, there must be a long-term strategy to decarbonise the UK’s electricity supply by 2035 as well as completely ban the sale of new hybrid, petrol and diesel cars by 2030. 

Is investment in SDG13 holding up?

Even though it is not the SDG with the lowest amount of investments, SDG13 still has a long way to go in order to be on track for the 2030 objective. 

The Climate Policy Initiative reported that numbers regarding climate-related investments have been growing significantly, going from an overall $360bn in 2012 to around $620bn in 2019. The investment needed, on the other hand, is a lot higher, amounting to an average of $3tn a year in order to respect the Paris Agreement’s terms.

As impact investing makes its way within the climate change field, billions of dollars aim to support SDGs and Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) initiatives. Many investors, especially between 2020 and 2023, have converted to sustainable profits, which augments personal profit for them but also results for the planet. Indeed, Trackinsight found 269 ETFs focused on the Climate Action goal, worth $90bn.

The highest amount belongs to the iShares MSCI USA SRI UCITS ETF, corresponding to $9.47bn. With other players such as the MSCI World Socially Responsible ETF investing over $4bn and the Xtrackers ETF investing almost $5bn SDG13 has many players in its favour. 

Goode stated: “The willingness of businesses of all sizes to be part of the solution is undoubtedly here. But it looks as though many need help to figure out how to. This is where leadership comes in. Rather than acquiescing in or actively encouraging a growth versus environment stand-off, our political leaders need to invest their capital and resources in helping businesses to be part of the solution and navigate the challenges ahead.”

[Read more about the Sustainable Development Goals here]

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