27 February 2013

Africa: Post-2015 Development Panel and Climate Change - a Missing Link?

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appointed the high-level panel on the United Nations' post-2015 development agenda to advise him on a "bold and at the same time practical development agenda beyond 2015".

The panel - like similar panels in the past - was not appointed by U.N. member states. It was appointed by the secretary-general and its task is to advise him. The absence of a direct mandate from U.N. member states may limit the panel's role in some respects, but it also has considerable freedom to act. One question is: how bold will it be?

The high-level panel, co-chaired by the UK prime minister and the presidents of Liberia and Indonesia, is due to submit its report in May. It has set out framing questions for its work. So far the communiqués from the panel meetings have offered little detail as to what might emerge in its report and recommendations.

The most recent communiqué, from the panel's meeting in Monrovia, Liberia, refers to the panel's vision and responsibility " ....to end extreme poverty in all its forms in the context of sustainable development and to have in place the building blocks of sustained prosperity for all". It highlights sustainable growth with equity, wealth through management of natural resources, and partnerships.

While the panel has made brief references to protecting the environment, FIELD is surprised that the panel has not so far identified climate change as a priority issue. The implications of climate change for development in poor and vulnerable countries and communities are far-reaching and urgent, requiring priority attention.


Climate change is impacting food security, water availability, health and other essential building-blocks of development.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) finds that climate change "is a significant and emerging threat to public health, and changes the way we must look at protecting vulnerable populations". For example, according to the WHO over 95 percent of Least Developed Countries (LDCs) identify health as a priority sector for climate change adaptation - but less than 30 percent have an adequate health assessment or response plan.

The World Food Programme (WFP) highlights that because of climate change "millions more people will be at risk of hunger and undernutrition. And most of them will be in the world's poorest countries where hunger, undernutrition and food insecurity are already widespread."

According to the UN Development Programme (UNDP) the impacts of climate change "will reverse decades' worth of human development gains and threaten achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)".

In FIELD's view, the panel needs to make climate change and its impacts on poor and vulnerable countries and communities a clear priority in its recommendations.

This is particularly important in light of the weak outcomes of the Doha Climate Change Conference in late 2012. The Doha compromises made it increasingly unlikely that climate change can be slowed enough to maintain average global temperature increases anywhere near safe levels, as Sir Robert Watson has pointed out in a recent interview.

Interestingly, according to its terms of reference, the panel's report is to include "key principles for reshaping the global partnership for development and strengthened accountability mechanisms".

This is where international law and incorporation of international legal principles could help to strengthen the panel's recommendations.

It is an open question at this stage whether the high-level panel will be "bold and practical", as U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has requested. In any case, the panel must not ignore how climate change is affecting the development prospects of poor and vulnerable countries and communities.

Joy Hyvarinen is executive director of the Foundation for International Environmental Law and Development (FIELD).

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