Climate Justice and the Sustainable Development Goals

Part of UN Sunday

In 2015, the UN General Assembly adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which included 17 Sustainable Development Goals to achieve by the target year of 2030. The Introduction to the 2030 Agenda includes the ambitious pledge “that no one will be left behind… And we will endeavour to reach the furthest behind first.”

Although it has its own goal (SDG 13), climate action is integral to all dimensions of inclusive, sustainable development. In short, all the SDGs depend on the achievement of Goal 13, and vice-versa. It is our responsibility as Unitarian Universalists and global citizens to take action to ensure that climate change adaptation policies are responsive to ending poverty (SDG 1), ensuring good health (SDG 3) and decent work (SDG 8) for all, and increasing access to justice & accountable institutions (SDG 16). The following are the goals that relate most directly to climate justice (take a look at the full list of Sustainable Development Goals; you might disagree with these top three!):

GOAL 6: Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all

So much of the conversation about climate justice has to do with water: Communities are facing too much water (flooding), others too little water (drought), and still others are finding their water sources are contaminated either by pollution, contaminated pipes, or salt from rising oceans. Climate justice demands equitable and sustainable management of water sources and systems. Indigenous communities’ rights to protect their territorial land and waterways must be respected and fulfilled.

GOAL 12: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns

One target of Goal 12 points to the sustainable management and efficient use of natural resources. Creating climate justice means reassessing who has access to and ownership over the natural resources that serve as the basis of global economies. Another target calls for sustainable management of chemical and other hazardous waste. Creating climate justice means responding to the needs of neighborhoods and communities whose air, water, and land have been contaminated with the improper disposal of chemical and other hazardous waste. Yet another target of this SDG calls for a substantial reduction in waste generation through prevention, reduction, reuse, and recycling. Creating climate justice requires systemic changes throughout supply and consumption chains to prevent waste generation, reduce it where prevention is not possible, reuse materials in creative ways, and recycle whatever cannot be repurposed.

GOAL 13: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts*

It goes without saying that combatting climate change and its impacts is essential to creating climate justice. The first target of this goal calls on all countries to create and implement disaster risk reduction strategies. Although it is not part of the language in this specific Goal, here it is essential to remember the words from the Introduction to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which stresses that in working to achieve the SDGs, countries pledge to “leave no one behind” and to “reach the furthest behind first.” When nations and local communities are working to develop climate change mitigation, adaptation, impact reduction, and early warning systems, it is absolutely essential that all parts of the community be part of the process. Every group that is traditionally excluded from decision-making – indigenous peoples, people with disabilities, youth, people of color, LGBTQ+ communities, and all other marginalized groups – everyone must participate in order to create solutions that will be effective and will work for everyone.

* Acknowledging that the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is the primary international, intergovernmental forum for negotiating the global response to climate change.