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  • Writer's pictureJames Cox

Development, climate change and peace.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (the Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs) and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change have changed the rules of development. The urgency and the opportunity of our present situation are captured more clearly than ever before. They tell us that without concerted action to reduce global warming to well under 2 degrees celsius, climate change will be a catastrophe for the Earth and all things that live here. They also tell us that we can be the generation to end extreme poverty.

The ambition of these two visions has taken most people by surprise. The Paris Agreement aims for deeper emissions cuts than expected, and the SDGs encompass poverty alleviation, economic growth, environmental protection and a commitment to peace in ways thought impossible while they were being negotiated. And it is extraordinary that these were agreed within weeks of each other at a time of global uncertainty. Terrorism, intractable conflicts, unprecedented levels of human displacement, inequality, economic hardship, rising global temperatures and more extreme and frequent environmental disasters take turns on the world’s front pages.

These challenges are real. The war in Syria is in its 6th year, and Africa’s Great Lakes have seen 20 years of conflict. Bushfires here in Australia start earlier each year and are more frequently catastrophic. In the Pacific Ocean, higher tides and more frequent storms threaten the viability of whole countries. Sixty million people are refugees. The richest 62 people control same wealth as the poorest half of the world's population. Women and children suffer from violence in myriad ways.

These problems are interrelated. People are displaced from their homes by environmental disaster as well as by violence, while development itself has been, in the longer term, a driver of climate change. Inequality drives conflict: women in Papua New Guinea experience extraordinary levels of prejudice and violence in society and at home, while unemployed and disempowered youth around the world are susceptible to the lure of violence, whether in gangs, militia or terrorists.

So in the face of these events the Paris and New York agreements represent an optimistic statement of belief by the world’s political leaders that we can and will do better. The agreements have deservedly been criticised for their limited enforceability, but we should not fail to celebrate their achievement. Their shortcomings make it all the more important for us to work hard to bring them about.

Ordinary people are essential for this to happen. Without our input and activism, acting individually or under the banner of civil society, the two agreements would not have been as ambitious as they are. People marching, lobbying, analysing, proposing and generally doing everywhere from villages to global meeting rooms sent a strong message to the negotiators and political leaders that ordinary people care about climate change, poverty and peace, and moreover are doing things about it, with or without their leaders’ help.

As we move from negotiation to implementation, normal people are leading the way by using greener energy sources, empowering women, making policy recommendations to governments, building livelihoods for youth and demanding change. This is true around the world, in Africa and Latin America, in Asia and the Middle East, in the West, and as this blog series will discuss, in the Pacific.

I hope that you will join me.

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