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How the international system should tackle climate risk


For the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to succeed, there must be an urgent move away from reactive ‘defence-oriented’ mindsets when managing climate risk.

Roughly two dozen international organizations, mostly in the United Nations (UN) family, foster cooperation and set the global agenda on a range of critical issues, including health, water, energy, environment, food, migration, security, and development.

Collectively they provide the world with a critical safety net and, in the words of the second UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld, the purpose is not to lead humanity to heaven but rather to ‘save it from hell’.

Climate change certainly provides a potentially hellish problem – happening everywhere, at all scales, and cascading across borders and sectors with unpredictable impacts. It is already damaging critical infrastructure, undermining economic growth, and displacing entire communities, and is an existential challenge for low-lying island states and coastal areas.

But our international ‘safety net’ was largely built between the end of the Second World War and the 1970s, before the impacts of anthropogenic climate change were widely understood, leaving the question of whether this system is fit for purpose in a climate-changing world.

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