Africa: Why SDGs and the Paris Climate Agreement Are Intimately Linked

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One of the key topics discussed in the recently concluded UN General Assembly was the call to implement the SDGs, where President Kagame took the lead, in his speech, to exhort his fellow leaders to mobilise the support, commitment and enthusiasm needed to improve the lives of people.

It is important to stress that the 2030 Agenda was the most ambitious roadmap for development ever adopted by the UN. Kagame's speech clearly underlined the importance of improving the quality of life as the centrepiece of the SDGs.

The prime objective of the SDGs is to improve the quality of life without 'leaving anyone behind'. Of course, the 2030 Agenda is not just "a collection of wishes". It requires policymakers to implement this 'Agenda' through inclusive approach by all institutions and at all levels. This is an awesome and tremendous undertaking that requires political will, as a precursor, and involvement of all stakeholders.

Rwanda has set a striking example in the implementation of the formerly MDGs and, as a result, was gifted to be the host of an SDG centre of excellence. Needless to say, this was an impetus not to relax , but to strive higher in turning around the way of life.

This is not, however, an onus of the government alone but everyone's responsibility. It can be asserted that the implementation of the SDGs and the Paris Climate Agreement is intimately linked. These two pacts are indeed inextricably linked. Ratifying and enforcing the Paris Agreement is an isthmus to achieving the SDGs. Although the SDGs and the Paris Agreement are umbilically linked, they're different from a legal point of view.

The SDGs are a global 'Agenda' whose implementation is non-legally binding though has a legal significance. In a general sense, the SDGs assume a collective responsibility to advance and strengthen the interdependent and mutually reinforcing pillars of sustainable development (i.e. economic development, social development and environmental protection) at the local, national, regional and global levels.

For the Paris Agreement is typically enforceable upon signing and ratifying unlike the SDGs. So, if countries ratify this agreement they will have to combat climate change and to accelerate and intensify the actions and investments needed for a sustainable low carbon future. This is, needless to say, one of the ideals of the SDGs. Thus, I appeal to the government, as it did with MDGs, to similarly take a leadership role in applying SDGs in all institutions and at all levels. Indeed, this calls for ratifying the Paris Agreement as some countries have already put pen to it.

As of now, not less than 20 countries have so far ratified the agreement. It is interesting to note, however, that the Paris Agreement has a double threshold of 55 countries and 55% of global emissions that must both be met before it enters into force and becomes legally binding. There will be need for a significant number of ratifications from larger emitters and economies to ensure that the Paris Agreement enters into force.

This is now the step Rwanda and the rest of the world ought to take. Interestingly, in the recent G7 Summit held in China, the biggest carbon emitters inter alia the USA and China for the first time committed to ratifying the Paris Agreement before end of 2016.

Also, India, which follows the footsteps of the biggest emitters, approved to ratify the Paris Agreement. So Rwanda should take this opportunity of being the domicile for the SDGs to mobilise and galvanise the EAC Partner states as well as Africa at large to ratify and put into effect the Paris Agreement-as one of the catalysts to achieving SDGs.

As noted already, the Paris Agreement is a major component deeply embedded in the SDGs. To Rwanda, the SDGs do not seem as a new global policy, they are already embodied in the national development strategy (popularly known as EDPRS 2) which was launched in line with the country's Vision 2020, whose prime objective is to make people get out of abject poverty among others.

The global adoption of the SDGs came to bolster up the morale of what was already in Rwanda's transformational agenda. As well, other countries are already on the move. Nevertheless, it would be too naïve to be complacent of what has been achieved and don't strive for the higher. To date, in most countries, the greatest hindrance to the implementation of SDGs is corruption. It poses an existential threat to sustainable development in general.

Therefore, Rwanda must stay on course of strengthening corruption preventive efforts at all levels. Of course, this calls for focusing efforts on selected SDG areas such as those related to basic services (health, education,water and energy), as well as investment in infrastructure.

In closing, the SDGs encapsulate a common vision of world all countries want to see, and embody a comprehensive, systematic and coherent approach to development that recognizes poverty eradication and climate change among the greatest global challenges of our time.

Sharing responsibilities and resources among levels of government can be the best way of localizing the SDGs.

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