“Sustainable development is the top priority of the United Nations and for my second term as Secretary-General. Corporate sustainability has gone mainstream. Now we must achieve critical mass. Only with your strong support and leadership we can change and shape the world we want and we can make this world better for all.” – Ban Ki Moon, Secretary General of the United Nations


Sustainable Development has been the topic of many discussions since 1970s officially starting off as the centre of the discussion in United Nations Conference on Human Environment (popularly known as the Stockholm Conference) which was held in 1972. The Stockholm document outlined many important facts on the issues of human survival during vast changing climate and issued numerous guidelines on responsibility to protect climate in all forms and guiding future international climate and sustainable advocacy organizations in creating frameworks. The Stockholm Conference also focussed on creating a new entity (within the United Nations or separate) on climate change. This led to the formation of United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), the leading primary organization within UN responsible for creating numerous policies and activities.

Sustainable development and climate change are viewed in different angles from different scopes in the international arena, however it is all but the same. One of the most important topic is the basic understanding of implementing policies through different approaches by the global nations especially the power nations, which has different effects on development, the only thing we need is a coordination, cooperation and support by member nations and agencies of the UN.

Growing Effects of Climate Change

In order to achieve sustainable development and assess effects on climate change at the international level, it is important for the member nations to understand previous efforts done at national, regional and at international level, it is also important for nations to understand environmental and economical outcomes of the decisions by member nations, which here is the key. Some of the major sources of climate change can be because of inadequate fresh water, land and forestry resources, food and agriculture production, along with large scale environmental catastrophes such as floods and draughts. According to a recent released document by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a leading international expert body on climate change, “observational evidence from all continents and most oceans shows that many natural systems are being affected by regional climate changes, particularly temperature increases.” The assessment report clearly supports the fact that nations have been implementing policies on a larger scale and the outcome of their advocacy have been quite productive, although the time taken by nations to unite and implement productive policies are increasing rapidly, the sooner the nations come and unite, the sooner our land will be habitable not for us, but for the entire coming generation.


When we speak about resources, water is one of the most essential and basic requirement of human life, and the access to “safe and clean drinking water and sanitation is a human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights”. Thus, any effect of climate change on freshwater also fundamentally effects human life, along with any chance of sustainable development. According to the IPCC some of the most significant changes to the freshwater resources includes “reduced water holding capacity of the atmosphere (leading to increased variability of perception and more intense droughts), greater variability in stream flow resulting in decreased water supply in many regions (such as the Andes), and decreasing water levels”. Each of the effects mentioned above, followed by excess use of water, in turn, drastically effects mankind in terms of water availability, while making it a top priority for the civilization to protect. For example, one of the most important use of water resources is irrigation, which comes up around 90% of global consumption, although there was significant increase recorded last year, because of decreasing precipitation and increasing temperature.

These changes have been recorded highest in the previous year, and for the first time research scientists were able to link it with the changing climate more over human activity and population expansion were key causes of it. Further when human population started using water more extensively, natural replenishment of water became a problem, future water supply was compromised and effect to bring any change in sustainable development became next to impossible, especially sustainable agriculture.

Although in many water scare areas effects have already started showing, draught and over flooding has decimated fertile lands, including the Huanghe River basin in China and the Murray-Darling river basin in Australia. To combat solutions, international agencies have come forward to find innovative techniques in irrigation and agriculture processes. One such example of a cross-cutting success story has been the Empowerment of Women in Irrigation and Water Resources Management for Household Food Security (WIN Project) in Nepal, which was conducted by Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) between 2000 and 2003.The project was designed to increase local economic diversification, especially within women, while ensuring that the method remains sustainable and environmental friendly. By increasing locally grown foods, and decreasing the cost of production, the project increased sustainable resource management, and allowed women, who were earlier marginalized in the community, enter the market place. By accessing low cost irrigation methods, the year around food production became quiet cheap, which brought food security in communities.

Food Production

Similar to water, food production has become another stress as a direct result of climate change. Agriculture and food production are a must for human survival. Today, 40% of the land is managed as cropland and pastures to support livelihood, yet the land is increasingly faced by draughts, soil erosion, over use of ground water, growing use of pesticides, loss of biodiversity etc.

Additionally, today, 2.6 Million relies on fisheries for nutrition while “three-quarters of global fisheries are currently fully exploited, over-exploited or depleted.” One of the most pressing issue that we face today is balancing the increase in agriculture production. Although increased crop production means increased measures to tackle malnutrition, areas where land degradation is at a higher rate (Latin America and Sub African Region), will continue to suffer from food and water scarcity. Today, many international communities are facing challenges in identifying new methods in crop production and environmentally friendly methods of food production, while at the same time international communities are unable to maintain constant level of output. It is also important to understand that climate change has adversely affected food production today, and the worsening weather conditions are creating substantial impacts on efforts taken by international agencies, while leaving a long-standing effects on people and their lands.

Current International Framework

Rio+ 20

In the last decade, numerous plan of actions was implemented, many international bodies were constituted, while many international frameworks were expanded within the international system on climate change and sustainable development. The Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD), which took place in June 2012, was one of the most prominent conferences held exclusively on sustainable development, outside of the UNFCCC COP annual meetings. The concept of Rio+20 was created through General Assembly Resolution 64/236.

The conference worked towards implementing best sustainable practices to combat direct result of climate change, and provided a platform for international agencies, global nations, environment experts and other stakeholders, to discuss the growing issues which came as a direct result of climate change. Participants included members of government, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), members of the private sector, and members of civil society. The conference focussed on green economy and sustainable development, followed by international framework for development.

Financial Investment

One of the most important tool to achieve sustainable development and counter climate change is the financial investment by developed states, both at global and local level. One such initiative is the Climate Investment Fund (CIF). The CIF was jointly formed by UNFCCC and by the World Bank, and Regional Development Banks. Today, the CIF funds 46b countries, and has 14 contributing countries. The funds are provided to developing nations to create programs and tools to counter effects of climate change. The CIF is classified into two categories: the Clean Technology Fund (CTF) and the Strategic Climate Fund (SCF). The funds are distributed largely in the form of grants, loans and concessional funds.

The CIF gives great opportunity to developing nations to plan and execute their programs, and these programs have shown productive results. An Annual report of a leading environment agency links between funding sustainable development and the reduced impact of climate change: “An estimated 1.6 billion tons of CO2 is projected to be reduced or avoided in the 13 funded CTF Investment Plans, the equivalent of Russia’s annual emissions. Every CTF dollar invested means one-third ton of CO2 reduced or avoided.”Some important achievements can be seen through the fact that through these funding’s and timely project completion has made Singapore the only developing nation with an ability to harness geothermal energy, also it has become the only nation in the world to reduce 33 metric tons of CO2 over the lifetime of a single project, addition to provide uninterrupted electricity supply to the citizens.

The Role of BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa)

One of the finest example of coordination outside regional commissions have been between Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, the “BRICS” states. The Delhi Declaration of March 2012, an outcome of the Fourth BRICS summit, reassessed the challenges towards sustainable development, along with outlining few challenges in the implementation of few successful development models.

One of the most important point here in the declaration was the affirmation in the commitment of nations to UNFCCC and pledging the share of knowledge between nations along with their commitment towards financial support, as well as technology transfer and capacity building strategies. In accordance to their support in the Rio+20, nations also pledged commitment towards developing green economy, and to tackle any barriers in trade and development. One of the most significant challenges that BRICS nations face today is the utilization of foreign aid. Essentially global nations have to choose between investing in global efforts through traditional means, followed by methods to provide sustainable development mechanisms and environmentally friendly policies and development.

Moving Ahead

Many international organizations are focussing on sustainable development and focussing the attention of global world to the climate change and its effects. Moreover, the push has been coordinated and supported through various international organizations, governments and agencies of the United Nations, such that all stakeholders take part and are able to utilize technical resources, in order to help developing nations undergo sustainable projects. One major initiative which has successfully come out is through the efforts of United Nations Global Compact. The Global Compact is beyond government plans, implementation and projects, it pushes the private sector to take up their tools and combat issues in climate change and sustainable development front the front. Recently the global compact has launched a Care for Climate Program, and commits business leaders in reducing carbon footprint, by employing low impact technologies and tools for energy consumption. Efforts like these increases a sense of responsibility, and create awareness among the stakeholders to support such initiative on a larger scale, in an effort to reduce the consequences of the damage which has already effected our land, and allowing nations to focus on sustainable and habitable infrastructure.

Current Efforts

According to the World Health Organization and the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change, under-nutrition has one of the highest impact of climate change to health. Current evidence of effects of climate change to health also places under-nutrition as a leading cause of death.

Paris 2015 – COP 21

The level of international conferences on climate change and sustainability has changed phenomenally since the Rio Earth Summit in 1992. After its entry into force (Kyoto Protocol in 2005) international organizations and member nations sat together for a much broader discussion on climate change at Bali in 2007. The discussion again got reformed when the member nations sat together in Copenhagen to reduce the global warming by 2°C.In 2010, the Cancun Conference again focussed our goals through adoption of the Green Climate Fund and the Technology Mechanism.

The will to work together and to keep within the +2°C limit led to the formation of Durban Platform (ADP), with a role to bring all developed and developing nations to bring “protocol, legal instrument or agreed outcome with legal force”, applicable for all member nations which ratified the UN Framework Agreement on Climate Change. Another “instrument” is on the way, and will be adopted which will be implemented by member nations from 2020, and that is the goal in the Conference at Paris.


The “aggressive progress” that has been made in the area of sustainable development, starting with the fact that nations should not only take the effects of climate change seriously, but also should work towards limiting the effects of climate change effectively. However there are still challenges that remain unresolved in sustainable development policies both at the regional and national level, along with the targets set at the international level.

One of the most important topic that many conferences and seminars rule out is educating the people on climate change, and how small and regional actions can have substantial impacts on the globe. The most important point which is also ruled out here is the role of private sector within the issue and understanding the fact that what private sector can provide nationally and internationally.

Images Credits: http://www.cop21.gouv.fr/en/press/communication-kit/

Anant Mishra 1Article Contributed By: 

Anant Mishra is former youth representative United Nations. He has served in number of committees including United Nations Conference for Trade and Development and United Nations General Assembly primarily focusing on international trade, middle east crisis, education, finance, economics. He can be reached on [email protected]gmail.com

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