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Accelerating SDG 13 through international cooperation for ambitious climate action

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By Kapil Narula

· 6 min read

Climate change has emerged as one of the foremost global issues and is becoming a major concern for countries, businesses, and individuals everywhere. Climate-related risks, such as natural disasters and extreme weather events, failure to mitigate and adapt to climate change, and biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse, were the top four global risks over a ten-year period in the Global Risk Report 2023 by the World Economic Forum. Therefore, SDG 13, which is to “Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts”, with its five targets and eight indicators occupies center stage in the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. The forthcoming 2023 SDG Summit which marks the mid-point to the achievement of SDGs is therefore timely and is expected to reignite a sense of hope, optimism, and enthusiasm.

Urgent action on SDG 13, now!

The SDG Report 2023 assesses that “the pace and scale of current climate action plans are wholly insufficient to effectively tackle climate change”. The detailed progress on individual targets can be viewed on the SDG 13 tracker. Under the Paris Climate Agreement, countries agreed to pursue efforts “to limit the increase in the global average temperature to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels”. This ambitious target implies that global GHG emissions must be reduced by 43% by 2030 and hence calls for focused, collaborative and coordinated action. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) also emphasizes that deep, rapid and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are essential in all sectors, beginning now and continuing throughout this decade. Urgent and transformative action on mitigation as well as adaptation is crucial, to build resilience and deliver the promise of SDG 13.

The achievement of SDG 13 is closely linked with climate action by countries. At the end of this year, COP 28 will be held in Dubai where the COP President Designate, UNFCCC Executive Secretary and the UN Climate Change High-Level Champions (HLCs) will work together to build consensus for a stronger global response to climate change. At COP28, the first Global Stocktake (GST) will also provide a comprehensive assessment of progress since adopting the Paris Agreement, which will set the pace for future climate action. 

Role of non-state actors in climate action 

Governments are the main actors in the fight against climate change as they have the power to regulate public and private companies by enforcing laws and making policies to reduce GHG emissions, promote renewable energy, and develop climate-resilient infrastructure. Governments also have the responsibility to negotiate international agreements, create robust partnerships and voluntarily commit to ambitious climate action plans, providing long-term direction for climate action. 

But the fight against climate change cannot be won only by governments. Non-state actors, including civil society organizations (CSOs), businesses, and individuals, play a crucial role in promoting climate action. CSOs engage in advocacy and encourage national and sub-national actors to adopt progressive policies by mobilizing public opinion and raising awareness about the importance of climate action. The think tank community including universities, contributes by providing research insights and evidence-based policy recommendations that inform policymakers.

Businesses are primary actors in achieving SDG 13 as they can reduce their carbon footprint through sustainable practices. By making their own operations and products carbon neutral, lowering waste, and implementing eco-friendly policies, they can provide sustainable choices to individuals. They are also the powerhouses of innovation and accelerated climate action cannot be achieved without the development of new technologies. Hence, businesses can trigger the large-scale deployment of low-cost, clean and sustainable solutions. 

Catalysing partnerships through the Breakthrough Agenda

International partnerships are essential for climate action as they promote collaboration among various actors to share knowledge, resources, and best practices that help to accelerate climate action. International collaboration amplifies the ambition loop, by enabling faster innovation, stronger incentives for investment, larger economies of scale, and level playing fields where they are needed.

The Breakthrough Agenda was launched by 45 world leaders at COP 26 in Glasgow. It is an international effort to make clean technologies and sustainable solutions the most affordable, accessible and attractive option before the end of this decade. Through this political process, signatory countries agreed to common targets demonstrating their commitment to stronger international collaboration on accelerating climate action. The five sectors, which were power, steel, road transport, hydrogen and agriculture, have now been expanded to the buildings and cement sector and collectively contribute to more than 60% of global GHG emissions. Ambitious goals for these sectors, referred to as ‘breakthroughs’, are co-led by countries including the UK, Morocco, the US and Egypt, while several other countries have endorsed them.

The ambitious objectives of the Breakthrough Agenda are delivered through a series of activities including the 2023 Breakthrough Agenda Report – authored by the IEA, IRENA and the HLCs – released in September 2023. The report provides an independent assessment, evidence of the advances made in the last year and further actions needed to meet the goals of the Breakthrough Agenda. The 2023 report shows that current efforts on clean energy and sustainable solutions, while steadily improving, are not yet delivering the levels of investment and deployment required to meet international climate goals. In response, it calls on governments to strengthen collaboration in key areas – such as standards and regulation, financial and technical assistance and market creation – to turbocharge the transition. 

To further strengthen international partnerships, the Breakthrough Agenda has announced a partnership with the UAE COP28 Presidency. At COP28, several ‘Priority Actions’, which are specific, timely and measurable actions to respond to the Breakthrough Agenda report recommendations will be adopted, setting out sector-specific plans, which will be pursued by countries, for the forthcoming year. 


The Breakthrough Agenda is a robust process that has catalysed international cooperation on climate action by setting ambitious targets, tracking progress, identifying areas for coordinated action and galvanising public and private actors behind specific recommendations. Without international cooperation, the 1.5°C outcome cannot be achieved. Making clean and sustainable technologies the most affordable, accessible and attractive option in all regions by 2030 is therefore vital for the global transition to net zero emissions. 

Apart from directly advancing SDG7, SDG9, SDG11 and SDG13 through climate action, the Breakthrough Agenda also catalyses the progress of several other SDGs. A faster global transition also implies the timely achievement of the 2030 Agenda, which is not yet advancing at the speed or scale required. In the words of Dr Mahmoud Mohieldin, UN Climate Change High-Level Champion for COP27,

The acceleration in the global low carbon just transition must be connected with inclusive development pathways through ensuring linkages with and contribution to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.”

illuminem Voices is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of leading Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.

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About the author

Kapil Narula is a veteran of the Indian Navy and holds an interdisciplinary PhD in Economics. He has over 20 years of versatile global experience while leading several teams in the UN, government, think tanks, universities and industries.

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