IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability

20.7.1 Millennium Development Goals – a 2015 time slice

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are the product of international consensus on a framework by which nations can assess tangible progress towards sustainable development; they are enumerated in Table 20.7. UN (2005) provides the most current documentation of the 8 MDGs, the 11 specific targets for progress by 2015 or 2020 and the 32 quantitative indicators that are being used as metrics. This chapter has made the point that sustainable development and adaptive capacity for coping with climate change have common determinants. It is easy, therefore, to conclude that climate change has the potential to affect the progress of nations and societies towards sustainability. MA (2005) supports this conclusion. Climate-change impacts on the timing, flow and amount of available freshwater resources could, for example, affect the ability of developing countries to increase access to potable water: Goal #7, Target #10, Indicator #30 (UN, 2005). It is conceivable that climate change could have measurable consequences, in some parts of the world at least, on the indicators of progress on food security: Goal #1, Target #2, Indicators #4 and #5 (UN, 2005). Climate-change impacts could possibly affect one indicator in Goal #6 (prevalence and death rates associated with malaria), over the medium term (UN, 2005). The list can be extended.

Table 20.7. The Millennium Development Goals.

1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger 
2. Achieve universal primary education 
3. Promote gender equality and empower women 
4. Reduce child mortality 
5. Improve maternal health 
6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases 
7. Ensure environmental sustainability 
8. Develop a global partnership for development 

Source: http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/documents.html

The anthropogenic drivers of climate change, per se, affect MDG indicators directly in only two ways: in terms of energy use per dollar GDP and CO2 emissions per capita. While climate change may, with high confidence, have the potential for substantial effects on aspects of sustainability that are important for the MDGs, the literature is less conclusive on whether the metrics themselves will be sensitive to either the effects of climate change or to progress concerning its drivers, especially in the near term. The short-term targets of the MDGs (i.e., the 2015 to 2020 Targets) will be difficult to reach in any case. While climate impacts have now been observed with some levels of confidence in some places, it will be difficult to blame climate change for limited progress towards the Millennium Development Targets.

In the longer term, Arrow et al. (2004) argue that adaptation decisions can reduce the effective investment available to reach the MDGs. They thereby raise the issue of opportunity costs: perhaps investment in climate adaptation might retard efforts to achieve sustainable development. Because the determinants of adaptive capacity and of sustainable development overlap significantly; however, (see Section 20.2) it is also possible that a dollar spent on climate adaptation could strengthen progress towards sustainable development.

Whether synergistic effects or trade offs will dominate interactions between climate impacts, adaptation decisions and sustainable development decisions depend, at least in part, on the particular decisions that are made. Decisions on how countries will acquire sufficient energy to sustain growing demand will, for example, play crucial roles in determining the sustainability of economic development. If those demands are met by increasing fossil fuel combustion, then amplifying feedbacks to climate change should be expected. There are some indications that this is now occurring. Per capita emissions of CO2 in developing countries rose from 1.7 tonnes of CO2 per capita in 1990 to 2.1 tonnes per capita in 2002; they remained, though, far short of the 12.6 tonnes of CO2 per capita consumed in developed countries (UN, 2005). Resources devoted to expanding fossil fuel generation could, therefore, be seen as a source of expanded climate-change impacts. On the other hand, investments in forestry and agricultural sectors designed to preserve and enhance soil fertility in support of improved food security MDGs (e.g., Goal #1) might have synergies for climate mitigation (through carbon sequestration) and for adaptation (because higher economic returns for local communities could be invested in adaptation). It is simply impossible to tell, a priori, which effect will dominate. Each situation must be analysed qualitatively and quantitatively.

These complexities make it clear that not all development paths will be equal with respect to either their consequences for climate change or their consequences for adaptive capacity. Moreover, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA, 2005) and others (e.g., AfDB et al., 2004) argue that climate change will be a significant hindrance to meeting the MDGs over the long term. There is no discrepancy here because stresses from climate change will grow over time. Some regions and countries are already lagging in their progress towards the MDGs and these tend to be in locations where climate vulnerabilities over the 21st century are likely to be high. For example, the proportion of land area covered by forests fell between 1990 and 2000 in sub-Saharan Africa, South-East Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean, while it appeared to stabilise in developed countries (UN, 2005). Energy use per unit of GDP fell between 1990 and 2002 in both developed and developing regions, but developed regions remained approximately 10% more efficient than developing regions (UN, 2005). In short, regions where ecosystem services and contributions to human well-being are already being eroded by multiple external stresses are more likely to have low adaptive capacity.