Achieving global targets in a climate emergency: Half-way to where?

A birds eye view of housing rooftops and floodwaters. This is Dili, Timor-Leste inundated with flood waters following Cyclone Seroja in 2021

Dili, Timor-Leste inundated with flood waters following Cyclone Seroja in 2021. Flooding is the country’s most frequent disaster. This is triggered by heavy rains, low soil permeability, and excessive runoffs from mountains (Timor-Leste Disaster Management Reference Handbook). The rainy season runs from December to March, but climate change is causing more frequent and unexpected flooding as detailed in this article with the recent flooding in Water for Women project regions. (Photo by World Bank)


This year, on the International Day of Disaster Risk Reduction, we also find ourselves at the mid-point in the journey towards our global targets. Almost all of them are off track, so what is needed for a ‘course correction’? Accelerating climate-risk informed policy and action, including ramping up climate-resilient development and inclusive approaches, is our best bet at getting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Paris Agreement and Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (SFDRR) back on track or at least moving in the right direction, towards - and beyond - 2030.

This year marks the critical halfway point to the finish line of many of our current global development goals and 2030 agendas. Seven years have passed since our top three ambitious global agendas were agreed; the 17 SDGs, the legally binding Paris Agreement on climate change (that will be the focus of CoP28 next month in Dubai) and the SFDRR, which governments use to guide and monitor disaster risk reduction work. We have seven years to go to make good on our agreed, shared targets, including SDG6 ‘Water and Sanitation for All’, SDG5 ‘Gender Equality’, and SDG 10 ‘Reduced Inequalities’, which are prerequisites for all development goals, and prevent risks from materialising into ever more frequent and ferocious disasters – floods, fires, droughts, heat waves and pandemics – all of which disproportionately impact least developed countries, particularly women, Indigenous peoples and marginalised groups.

Two sides of the same coin

So, how are we tracking? Only 15% of the SDG targets are currently on track and the first global stocktake for the Paris Agreement will take place at CoP28. This will tell us how far we have progressed (or more likely not) on our aspirational path to limit global warming to 1.5°C.[1] The UN Environment Programme’s 2022 Emissions Gap Report assessed progress as ‘woefully inadequate’. No credible pathway to this goal exists, and with September shattering global temperature records and predictions,[2] to the dismay of scientists and the global community, it seems ever more impossible.

Compounding this, the SFDRR Midterm Review was published earlier this year, and in the words of Mami Mizuri, the UN Special Representative on Disaster Risk Reduction and Head of the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction: “the disasters triggered by the growing climate-related hazards threaten to undo decades of development gains and push millions back to poverty”.

While governments and civil society organisations have been pushing and making progress towards these development goals, and humanitarian agencies have been responding to more frequent and increasingly complex and compounding humanitarian disasters, there has been a realisation among those experiencing the impact of climate breakdown that these efforts form two sides of the same coin.

No longer can we treat our work as distinct global and national goals, operations, agencies, programs or funding streams distinctly siloing ‘climate’, ‘development’ and ‘humanitarian’. Our understanding and ability to forecast risk due to climate change, and our ability to predict how the most climate-impacted communities and all of our lives will change in the years to come, are alarmingly behind where they need to be. If we do not prioritise this understanding of climate risk, the allocation of resources to reducing it and take early action before disasters strike, we will increasingly find our development goals – Agenda 2030 and those to follow – a Sisyphean task, with any gains made brutally wiped out and pushed backwards due to compounding climate-related events.

We are already witnessing this.

From climate risk to reality

Aside from the ongoing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, which derailed progress against several SDGs – notably health, gender equality and education – we are also seeing climate change directly impact the ability of frontline community health and development workers, whose work whose work is so vital to our global development goals. In Timor-Leste, Water for Women partner WaterAid is delivering the project, Haforsa Ligasaun ba Igualidade, Resiliensia, Adaptasaun no Sustentabilidade ba BESI (Strengthening Connections for Equality, Resilience, Adaptation and Sustainability of WASH).

The prolonged, out of season, flooding in July in Manufahi caused extensive flooding and landslides, damaging 14 rural water systems in WaterAid’s project delivery areas. These events have not only damaged established and critical infrastructure, but also hampered the ability of the team on the ground to implement their planned project, as they have instead been providing emergency supplies to affected communities, including water.

Meredith Hickman from WaterAid Australia recognises this shift in the ability of teams to work within this changing context, “flooding is common in Timor-Leste but this was out of season, severe, and unexpected – communities were not sufficiently prepared. We know these events affect women, and people who live in greater poverty or with a disability the most. The events in Manufahi highlight why it is so critical for water sanitation and hygiene infrastructure and services to be climate resilient. Our team and partners are increasingly having to respond to climate events which even the most robust infrastructure can’t withstand – focusing on investment for adaptation and better preparation and improving the systems to respond to fix damaged infrastructure quickly is critical.”


Australia and the rest of the world has seen a worrying increase in climate-related (often record-breaking) disasters in recent years. In Asia and the Pacific, recent years have seen multiple climate-related disasters affect the operations and infrastructure of Water for Women partners. Vanuatu experienced back-to-back cyclones and a 6.6 magnitude earthquake in just four days in early 2023[3], whilst the 2022 Pakistan floods have been recorded as one of the costliest natural disasters in history, impacting over 33 million people and with the cost of reconstruction estimated at USD16.3 billion[4].

We have also seen that, despite decades of development approaches and initiatives to mainstream gender equality and disability inclusion into policies, strategies and programs on the ground, insufficient understanding of and action addressing the root causes of vulnerability translates into gender equality and disability inclusion outcomes lagging far behind acceptable levels.

And we do not have the answers, yet.


Finding answers to interconnected questions


Through Water for Women’s Learning Agenda on Climate-Resilient, Inclusive Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH), we are taking a multi-stakeholder approach that involves both our research and civil society organisation partners in Asia and the Pacific and aims to contribute to global understanding of risk-based WASH services and systems. By addressing learning questions, we are starting to understand what climate-resilient WASH development looks like in Asia and the Pacific, particularly for the most marginalised in communities. From research and evidence-based action, we know that there are non-negotiables that need to be scaled up to get the 2030 goals back on track, and to be in a better position to achieve the new post-2030 goals yet to be articulated.

Finding and forging new tracks towards 2030

Some of our evidence-based findings to date tell us that:

  • We need to get better at using climate and forecasting data to design quality, climate-resilient infrastructure and approaches, working with hydrometeorological organisations and climate scientists, particularly to identify who will be most impacted by climate change, so that climate-resilient infrastructure and resourcing and adaption can be designed from the outset.
  • We need to get better at listening and valuing Indigenous and local knowledge about climate impacts, land and water care/management, and supporting “both ways knowledge” sharing between climate data and projections and Indigenous/community experience and knowledge of changing weather patterns and their impacts. Outdated concepts such as ‘North-South’ transfer of knowledge and learning should be cast aside.
  • A systems approach is our best hope, and diverse, multi-stakeholder systems are strong systems. Strengthening mechanisms to support diversity in voice and representation brings different viewpoints, networks and pathways to change. Urgent action must be taken to include the voices of women, Indigenous peoples and rights holder organisations to achieve climate-resilient, inclusive WASH systems and broader development goals. This is not just about “allowing” diverse groups a seat at the table, but also ensuring they can bring their own seats to the table.
  • Locally-led adaptation measures need more support to ensure equitable access to clean water and sanitation for all (SDG6), the benefits of which flow through to all other goals that depend on water and sanitation.


In a world increasingly beset by climate and conflict threats, it is more important than ever that we identify and act on synergies between development and disaster risk reduction goals. Given the frequent and unprecedented climate events we are now seeing play out across the globe, it may already be idealistic to talk of getting our 2015 SDGs and global goals ‘back on track’ by 2030. We should rather be focussing our attention on what retrofitting and replacement of the tracks is required to get us to our shared, and most urgent destination, Climate-Resilient Development for all, by 2030.

This insight was written by Zahra Bolouri, Water for Women's Knowledge and Learning Manager.

The views expressed in this article are the authors own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Water for Women, the Australian Government or our partners. 

[1] To achieve this, greenhouse gas emissions must peak before 2025 at the latest and decline 43% by 2030 (UNFCCC).

[2] Copernicus Climate Change Service, Copernicus: September 2023 – unprecedented temperature anomalies; 2023 on track to be the warmest year on record, September Climate Bulletins: Newsflash (online press release), 5 October 2023.

[4] World Bank, 2022


International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction (IDDRR) takes place on 13 October. The theme for this year, Fighting inequality for a resilient future aligns with the Sendai Framework, the international agreement to prevent and reduce losses in lives, livelihoods, economies and basic infrastructure. It has seven global targets and 38 indicators for measuring progress. The Sendai Framework complements the Paris Agreement on climate change, with both frameworks interlinked to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. 

In 2023, the International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction is exploring the reciprocal relationship between disasters and inequality. Inequality and disaster vulnerability are two sides of the same coin: unequal access to services, such as finance and insurance, leaves the most at risk exposed to the danger of disasters; while disaster impacts exacerbate inequalities and push the most at risk further into poverty. 


Contact Us