Children carrying water containers

Climate change undermines SDGs, which include improving access to clean water. Credit: ADB / Asian Development Bank

At the half-time point of the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the science is clear – the planet is far off track from meeting its climate goals.

This undermines global efforts to tackle hunger, poverty and ill-health, improve access to clean water and energy and many other aspects of sustainable development, according to a new multi-agency report coordinated by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

Only 15% of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are on track, says the United in Science report, which makes a systematic examination of the impact of climate change and extreme weather on the goals.

It illustrates how weather, climate and water-related sciences can advance aims such as food and water security, clean energy, better health, sustainable oceans and resilient cities.

The annual report combines input and expertise from 18 organisations, including the University of Exeter.

It is issued ahead of the SDG Summit and Climate Ambition Summit at the United Nations General Assembly.

“2023 has shown all too clearly that climate change is here,” said UN Secretary-General António Guterres.  

“Record temperatures are scorching the land and heating the sea, as extreme weather causes havoc around the globe.

“While we know this is just the beginning, the global response is falling far short.

“Meanwhile, halfway to the 2030 deadline for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the world is woefully off-track.”

In the foreword to the report, Mr Guterres writes: “Science is central to solutions. It is widely understood that weather, climate, and water-related sciences provide the underpinnings for climate action.

“But it is less recognised how these sciences can supercharge progress on the SDGs across the board.”

WMO Secretary-General Professor Petteri Taalas said: “At this pivotal moment in history, the halfway mark to achieving the SDGs, the science community stands united in the effort to achieve prosperity for people and the planet.

“Groundbreaking scientific and technological advances, such as high-resolution climate modelling, artificial intelligence and nowcasting, can catalyse transformation to achieve the SDGs.

“And achieving Early Warnings for All by 2027 will not only save lives and livelihoods but also help safeguard sustainable development.”

The report shows, for example, how weather predictions help boost food production and move  closer to zero hunger.

Integrating epidemiology and climate information helps understand and anticipate those diseases sensitive to climate.

And early-warning systems help to reduce poverty by giving people the chance to prepare and limit the impact.

The need for science and solutions is more urgent than ever.

Between 1970 and 2021, there were nearly 12,000 reported disasters from weather, climate and water extremes, causing over two million deaths and US$4.3 trillion in economic losses.

Over 90% of these reported deaths and 60% of economic losses occurred in developing economies, undermining sustainable development.

Rising global temperatures have been accompanied by more extreme weather.

The chance of the annual mean global near-surface temperature temporarily exceeding 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels for at least one of the next five years is 66% and is increasing with time.

Professor Adam Scaife, from the University of Exeter, said: “This synthesis of latest climate science shows that we are getting ever closer to seeing individual years above 1.5°C and ever closer to the Paris Agreement thresholds of 1.5°C or even 2°C of global warming.”

So far, there has been very limited progress in reducing the emissions gap for 2030 – the gap between the emissions reductions promised by countries and the emissions reductions needed to achieve the temperature goal of the Paris Agreement.

Fossil fuel CO2 emissions increased 1% globally in 2022 compared to 2021 and preliminary estimates from January-June 2023 show a further 0.3% rise.

To get on track to meet the Paris Agreement goals of limiting warming to well below 2°C and preferably 1.5°C, global greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced by 30% and 45%, respectively, by 2030, with carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions getting close to net zero by 2050.

This will require large-scale, rapid and systemic transformations.

Professor Pierre Friedlingstein, from the University of Exeter, who leads the Global Carbon Budget, said: “Global CO₂ emissions from fossil have been increasing in 2022 and are expected to keep increasing this year.

“We should bring these emissions to zero as quickly as possible to limit larger warming in the near future.”

Some future changes in climate are unavoidable, and potentially irreversible, but every fraction of a degree and tonne of CO2 matters to limit global warming and achieve the SDGs, says the report.

Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme, said: “The science continues to show that we are not doing enough to lower emissions and meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.

“As the world prepares for the first global stocktake at COP28, we must increase our ambition and action, and we must all do the real work to transform our economies through a just transition to a sustainable future for people and planet.”