SDG 13 – The world doesn’t end in 2030
An interview by Claudia Jordan
What about the Sustainable Development Goals on climate set out in SDG 13? An interview with climate and land use expert Dr Alisher Mirzabaev on COP28 and whether the 2030 Agenda will be achieved.
Mr. Mirzabaev, are we on a good track regarding the transformation of agri-food systems in a changing climate?
A couple of years ago, during COP26 in Glasgow, I could not find a single word about food, agriculture, water, or land in the final decision. At least “nature” was mentioned a couple of times. But during the COP27 in Sharm El Sheikh, in their final decision there were sections devoted to agriculture, there were water and land use measures. In terms of the rhetoric and narrative, there was a tremendous change. One of the important contributions to that was the UN Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) and the related processes. But it was also ripening for some time. Agri-food systems are like big cruise ships: when you want to change direction, they do it very slowly. Transformation of course means fundamental change, but in my opinion, it will not happen from one day to another. From that perspective I’m very optimistic. We are moving in the right direction. Not fast enough, but I think that's the political reality.
“Agri-food systems are like big cruise ships: when you want to change direction, they do it very slowly.”
We’re heading to the Agenda 2030 halftime. Are we on track with SDG 13 on climate protection?
We were until recently, but we are getting off track on food security. This will automatically soon translate into getting off track with SDG 1 on poverty reduction. I work a lot on land issues and land targets. SDG 15 will not be reached until 2030. With climate protection, there will be a lot of advances, but I don't think that we will be able to avoid 1,5 degrees Celsius warming.
I think we made a lot of progress since 2015. But because of the pandemic and the Russian invasion in Ukraine, we started moving backwards. We will probably not reach the SDGs by 2030. But the world doesn't end in 2030. I think there's already some thinking going on what is next, how we learn from this colossal experiment in human history and then plan for the next period.
“Planting a tree is not the end of the story.”
Why do you think that SDGs like 13 or 15 will not be reached?
According to different estimates, there are around two to three billion hectares of degraded land around the world. This is 25 percent of the global land area. Estimates say, we need around five to seven trillion dollars to address that. Currently, the amount being invested is about 16 billion dollars per year. It’s a drop in an ocean. We may invest that money, but planting a tree is not the end of the story. For the land to be restored, the tree needs to survive until the age of 30 or 40. All this money is only for upfront costs. But then rarely anyone is following up with the long-term annual maintenance costs. I think we are definitely making a lot of progress, but not fast enough, not at the needed scales. Some countries such as Rwanda are making a lot of progress. They restored up to a million hectares, with almost 70 percent of the money for land restoration coming from the Rwandan government. When land restoration activities are dependent on often uncertain and volatile international donor money, the likelihood of achieving such successes is much smaller. This point also concerns the achievement of other SDGs.
“For some time, there was the assumption that adaptation is for developing countries and mitigation is for developed countries. Now, I think everybody is clear that even in higher income countries, adaptation is urgently needed.”
Looking at COP 28, what needs to be discussed to make it a success?
One measure of success will be on how promises are being fulfilled and increased regarding the adaptation fund. Secondly, agriculture and food systems are an important topic we will discuss more. As well as the mitigation and the role of land use management. For some time, there was the assumption that adaptation is for developing countries and mitigation is for developed countries. Now, I think everybody is clear that even in higher income countries, adaptation is urgently needed.