United in Science 2023: Sustainable Development Edition – World
We stand at a pivotal point in history – the halfway mark for achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. With only 15% of the Sustainable Development Goals on track, we are halfway to achieving global climate goals. The latest Sustainable Development Goals Report 2022 highlights the growing impacts of climate change and extreme weather events, along with other interconnected global challenges, that are holding back development gains and threatening the full achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.
At the halfway point of the 2030 Agenda, the science is clear – the planet is far from achieving its climate goals.
Anthropogenic climate change has led to widespread and rapid changes in the atmosphere, oceans, cryosphere and biosphere, affecting many extreme weather and climate events, with associated adverse impacts, losses and damage to nature and people (IPCC, 2023). The years 2015 to 2022 were the eight warmest years on record, and the chance of at least one exceeding the warmest year on record (2016) in the next five years is 98%. With a warm start to 2023 and the emergence of the El Niño phenomenon, there is an increasing possibility that 2023 will be among the hottest years on record. In addition, the probability that the annual average global near-surface temperature will temporarily exceed 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels for at least one of the next five years is 66% and increasing over time.
Very limited progress has been made in reducing the 2030 emissions gap – the gap between the emissions reductions promised by countries and the emissions reductions needed to meet the temperature target in the Paris Agreement. To be on track to meet the Paris Agreement goals of limiting temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Celsius, preferably 1.5 degrees Celsius, global greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced by 30% and 45%, respectively, by 2030, along with carbon dioxide. Emissions are close to net zero by 2050, compared to current policy projections.
Urgent and ambitious mitigation and adaptation actions are needed. Limiting global warming will require large-scale, rapid and systematic transformations to reach net zero anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions, and adaptation is crucial to reducing the harmful effects of climate change and preventing loss and damage. Some future changes in climate are unavoidable, and perhaps even irreversible, but every fraction of a degree or ton of carbon dioxide is important for limiting global warming and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
The impacts of extreme weather and climate change undermine progress towards achieving all the Sustainable Development Goals
Changes in the global climate system impact efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, and the increasing impacts of extreme events, in particular, disproportionately affect vulnerable communities. Between 1970 and 2021, 11,778 disasters attributed to extreme weather, climate and water events were reported, causing more than 2 million deaths and US$4.3 trillion in economic losses. More than 90% of these reported deaths and 60% of economic losses occurred in developing economies.
The impacts of these extreme events lead to loss of lives and livelihoods, exacerbate poverty and inequality, exacerbate food and water insecurity, provoke economic instability, and ultimately undermine sustainable development.
The year 2023 has already seen extreme weather, climate and water events around the world. Cyclone Freddie, the longest-lived tropical cyclone in recorded history, has impacted vulnerable communities across southern Africa. In Asia, Typhoon Duxuri brought unprecedented rainfall to Beijing – the heaviest rainfall since records began 140 years ago. July was the hottest month on record, with scorching temperatures across Europe, North America and China becoming increasingly common but would be extremely rare if not for human-induced climate change. In eastern Canada, climate change has more than doubled the likelihood of extreme fires, and record sea surface temperatures have led to dangerous marine heatwaves in the Mediterranean and off the coast of the United States. These extreme events have had major impacts on human health, ecosystems, economies, energy, agriculture and water supplies, threatening sustainable development globally.
Advances in weather, climate and water science can enhance our efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals
The world is equipped with science, technology and knowledge unprecedented in history. Weather, climate and water sciences and services, in particular, have seen revolutionary developments over the past few decades. Scientific advances, satellites and supercomputers, as well as the increase in observational data, have improved our ability to predict hydrometeorological events with remarkable accuracy and to anticipate future changes in climate while reducing uncertainty. Advances in early warning systems have reduced mortality rates, and new technologies, such as nowcasting, artificial intelligence, and high-resolution modeling, are revolutionizing the way we anticipate high-impact weather and water risks. Although often not recognized, weather, climate and water sciences and services play a critical role in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, as shown in Figure 1.
However, barriers prevent the full, effective and equitable use of weather, climate and water science for sustainable development, limiting progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Gaps in global surface data remain due to inadequate observations in parts of the world and restricted data sharing and access, significantly impacting the quality of weather, climate and water services at local, regional and global levels. Insufficient data, especially in low-income countries, creates knowledge gaps and ineffective policy-making, which limits progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. In addition, reaching local communities with comprehensible, affordable, actionable and real-time information on weather, climate and water remains a major challenge, as does effective integration of local, contextual and indigenous knowledge. Failure to fully engage local stakeholders and integrate their knowledge limits the effectiveness of science. Finally, a lack of scientific capacity has prevented many countries from effectively using weather, climate and water science to support ambitious action to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
As the final whistle approaches, investing in and mobilizing the scientific community will significantly enhance the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals
In August 2023, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution designating the period from 2024 to 2033 as the International Decade of Science for Sustainable Development. Going forward, the scientific community will be a game-changer as we enter the second half of the game. Unprecedented advances in weather, climate and water science and services remain underutilized to support sustainable development but must be enhanced, accelerated and scaled up to support the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. We have the solutions to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 – and now is the time to mobilize the scientific community to advance the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.