Climate Change 2001:
Working Group III: Mitigation
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10.3 Linkages to National and Local Sustainable Development Choices

Much of the ambiguity related to sustainable development and climate change arises from the lack of measurements that could provide policymakers with essential information on the alternative choices at stake, how those choices affect clear and recognizable social, economic, and environmental critical issues, and also provide a basis for evaluating their performance in achieving goals and targets. Therefore, indicators are indispensable to make the concept of sustainable development operational. At the national level important steps in the direction of defining and designing different sets of indicators have been undertaken; however, much work remains to be done to translate sustainability objectives into practical terms.

It is difficult to generalize about sustainable development policies and choices. Sustainability implies and requires diversity, flexibility, and innovation. Policy choices are meant to introduce changes in technological patterns of natural resource use, production and consumption, structural changes in the production systems, spatial distribution of population and economic activities, and behavioural patterns. Climate change literature has by and large addressed the first three topics, while the relevance of choices and decisions related to behavioural patterns and lifestyles has been paid scant attention. Consumption patterns in the industrialized countries are an important reason for climate change. If people changed their preferences this could alleviate climate change considerably. To change consumption patterns, however, people must not only change their behaviour but also change themselves because these patterns are an essential element of lifestyles and, therefore, of self-esteem. Yet, apart from climate change there are other reasons to do so as well as indications that this change can be fostered politically.

A critical requirement of sustainable development is a capacity to design policy measures that, without hindering development and consistent with national strategies, could exploit potential synergies between national economic growth objectives and environmentally focused policies. Climate change mitigation strategies offer a clear example of how co-ordinated and harmonized policies can take advantage of the synergies between the implementation of mitigation options and broader objectives. Energy efficiency improvements, including energy conservation, switch to low carbon content fuels, use of renewable energy sources and the introduction of more advanced non conventional energy technologies, are expected to have significant impacts on curbing actual GHG emission tendencies. Similarly, the adoption of new technologies and practices in agriculture and forestry activities as well as the adoption of clean production processes could make substantial contributions to the GHG mitigation effort. Depending on the specific context in which they are applied, these options may entail positive side effects or double dividends, which in some cases are worth undertaking whether or not there are climate-related reasons for doing so.

Sustainable development requires radical technological and related changes in both developed and developing countries. Technological innovation and the rapid and widespread transfer and implementation of individual technological options and choices, as well as overall technological systems, constitute major elements of global strategies to achieve both climate stabilization and sustainable development. However, technology transfer requires more than technology itself. An enabling environment for the successful transfer and implementation of technology plays a crucial role, particularly in developing countries. If technology transfer is to bring about economic and social benefits it must take into account the local cultural traditions and capacities as well as the institutional and organizational circumstances required to handle, operate, replicate, and improve the technology on a continuous basis.

The process of integrating and internalizing climate change and sustainable development policies into national development agendas requires new problem solving strategies and decision-making approaches. This task implies a twofold effort. On one hand, sustainable development discourse needs greater analytical and intellectual rigor (methods, indicators, etc.) to make this concept advance from theory to practice. On the other hand, climate change discourse needs to be aware of both the restrictive set of assumptions underlying the tools and methods applied in the analysis, and the social and political implications of scientific constructions of climate change. Over recent years a good deal of analytical work has addressed the problem in both directions. Various approaches have been explored to transcend the limits of the standard views and decision frameworks in dealing with issues of uncertainty, complexity, and the contextual influences of human valuation and decision making. A common theme emerges: the emphasis on participatory decision making frameworks for articulating new institutional arrangements.

10.4 Key Policy-relevant Scientific Questions

Different levels of globally agreed limits for climate change (or for corresponding atmospheric GHG concentrations), entail different balances of mitigation costs and net damages for individual nations. Considering the uncertainties involved and future learning, climate stabilization will inevitably be an iterative process: nation states determine their own national targets based on their own exposure and their sensitivity to other countries’ exposure to climate change. The global target emerges from consolidating national targets, possibly involving side payments, in global negotiations. Simultaneously, agreement on burden sharing and the agreed global target determines national costs. Compared to the expected net damages associated with the global target, nation states might reconsider their own national targets, especially as new information becomes available on global and regional patterns and impacts of climate change. This is then the starting point for the next round of negotiations. It follows from the above that establishing the “magic number” (i.e., the upper limit for global climate change or GHG concentration in the atmosphere) will be a long process and its source will primarily be the policy process, hopefully helped by improving science.

Looking at the key dilemmas in climate change decision making, the following conclusions emerge (see also Table TS.7):

Mitigation and adaptation decisions related to anthropogenically induced climate change differ. Mitigation decisions involve many countries, disperse benefits globally over decades to centuries (with some near-term ancillary benefits), are driven by public policy action, based on information available today, and the relevant regulation will require rigorous enforcement. In contrast, adaptation decisions involve a shorter time span between outlays and returns, related costs and benefits accrue locally, and their implementation involves local public policies and private adaptation of the affected social agents, both based on improving information. Local mitigation and adaptive capacities vary significantly across regions and over time. A portfolio of mitigation and adaptation policies will depend on local or national priorities and preferred approaches in combination with international responsibilities.

Given the large uncertainties characterizing each component of the climate change problem, it is difficult for decision makers to establish a globally acceptable level of stabilizing GHG concentrations today. Studies appraised in Chapter10 support the obvious expectations that lower stabilization targets involve substantially higher mitigation costs and relatively more ambitious near-term emission reductions on the one hand, but, as reported by WGII, lower targets induce significantly smaller bio/geophysical impacts and thus induce smaller damages and adaptation costs.

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