It was a unique moment when world leaders adopted the sustainable development goals (SDGs) in 2015. Every single government in the world – informed by input from millions of citizens, private sector leaders, and nonprofit experts – came together at the United Nations to agree to a collective, ambitious vision for a better future for everyone, at a time of considerable international tension in other domains. The vision outlined by the 17 SDGs includes the ambition to end poverty and hunger, ensure kids get quality education, empower girls and women as equal to men in all walks of life, and steward natural resources for the future health of all our societies.
In parallel, countries worked to craft what we now recognize as a landmark global deal on climate change, agreed in Paris at the end of 2015 and entering into force this November. While the two processes were separate, the SDGs and the Paris Agreement are indivisible in substance. Indeed, the SDGs include “urgent action to combat climate change” as Goal 13 – and are only achievable if the curve of climate change is bent. Left unchecked, rising sea levels and extreme weather events such as droughts and floods, will set back global efforts to eliminate poverty, alleviate hunger, and improve public health, even as rising temperatures disrupt ecosystems on land and in the seas. Climate action, in turn, depends on ambition and innovation in the systems addressed by the SDGs – like agriculture, energy, and infrastructure.