Climate Change 2001:
Working Group III: Mitigation
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1.2 Broadening the Context of Climate Change Mitigation

This chapter places climate change mitigation, mitigation policy, and the contents of the rest of the report in the broader context of development, equity, and sustainability. This context reflects the explicit conditions and principles laid down by the UNFCCC on the pursuit of the ultimate objective of stabilizing greenhouse gas concentrations. The UNFCCC imposes three conditions on the goal of stabilization: namely that it should take place within a time-frame sufficient to “allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change, to ensure that food production is not threatened and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner” (Art. 2). It also specifies several principles to guide this process: equity, common but differentiated responsibilities, precaution, cost-effective measures, right to sustainable development, and support for an open international economic system (Art. 3).

Previous IPCC assessment reports sought to facilitate this pursuit by comprehensively describing, cataloguing, and comparing technologies and policy instruments that could be used to achieve mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions in a cost-effective and efficient manner. The present assessment advances this process by including recent analyses of climate change that place policy evaluations in the context of sustainable development. This expansion of scope is consistent both with the evolution of the literature on climate change and the importance accorded by the UNFCCC to sustainable development - including the recognition that “Parties have a right to, and should promote sustainable development” (Art. 3.4). It therefore goes some way towards filling the gaps in earlier assessments.

Climate change involves complex interactions between climatic, environmental, economic, political, institutional, social, and technological processes. It cannot be addressed or comprehended in isolation of broader societal goals (such as equity or sustainable development), or other existing or probable future sources of stress. In keeping with this complexity, a multiplicity of approaches have emerged to analyze climate change and related challenges. Many of these incorporate concerns about development, equity, and sustainability (DES) (albeit partially and gradually) into their framework and recommendations. Each approach emphasizes certain elements of the problem, and focuses on certain classes of responses, including for example, optimal policy design, building capacity for designing and implementing policies, strengthening synergies between climate change mitigation and/or adaptation and other societal goals, and policies to enhance societal learning. These approaches are therefore complementary rather than mutually exclusive.

This chapter brings together three broad classes of analysis, which differ not so much in terms of their ultimate goals as of their points of departure and preferred analytical tools. The three approaches start with concerns, respectively, about efficiency and cost-effectiveness, equity and sustainable development, and global sustainability and societal learning. The difference between the three approaches selected lies in their starting point not in their ultimate goals. Regardless of the starting point of the analysis, many studies try in their own way to incorporate other concerns. For example, many analyses that approach climate change mitigation from a cost-effectiveness perspective try to bring in considerations of equity and sustainability through their treatment of costs, benefits, and welfare. Similarly, the class of studies that are motivated strongly by considerations of inter-country equity tend to argue that equity is needed to ensure that developing countries can pursue their internal goals of sustainable development–a concept that includes the implicit components of sustainability and efficiency. Likewise, analysts focused on concerns of global sustainability have been compelled by their own logic to make a case for global efficiency–often modelled as the decoupling of production from material flows–and social equity. In other words, each of the three perspectives has led writers to search for ways to incorporate concerns that lie beyond their initial starting point. All three classes of analyses look at the relationship of climate change mitigation with all three goals–development, equity, and sustainability–albeit in different and often highly complementary ways. Nevertheless, they frame the issues differently, focus on different sets of causal relationships, use different tools of analysis, and often come to somewhat different conclusions.

There is no presumption that any particular perspective for analysis is most appropriate at any level. Moreover, the three perspectives are viewed here as being highly synergistic. The important changes have been primarily in the types of questions being asked and the kinds of information being sought. In practice, the literature has expanded to add new issues and new tools, subsuming rather than discarding the analyses included in the other perspectives. The range and scope of climate policy analyses can be understood as a gradual broadening of the types and extent of uncertainties that analysts have been willing and able to address.

The first perspective on climate policy analysis is cost effectiveness. It represents the field of conventional climate policy analysis that is well represented in the First through Third Assessments. These analyses have generally been driven directly or indirectly by the question of what is the most cost-effective amount of mitigation for the global economy starting from a particular baseline GHG emissions projection, reflecting a specific set of socio-economic projections. Within this framework, important issues include measuring the performance of various technologies and the removal of barriers (such as existing subsidies) to the implementation of those candidate policies most likely to contribute to emissions reductions. In a sense, the focus of analysis here has been on identifying an efficient pathway through the interactions of mitigation policies and economic development, conditioned by considerations of equity and sustainability, but not primarily guided by them. At this level, policy analysis has almost always taken the existing institutions and tastes of individuals as given; assumptions that might be valid for a decade or two, but may become more questionable over many decades.

The impetus for the expansion in the scope of the climate policy analysis and discourse to include equity considerations was to address not simply the impacts of climate change and mitigation policies on global welfare as a whole, but also of the effects of climate change and mitigation policies on existing inequalities among and within nations. The literature on equity and climate change has advanced considerably over the last two decades, but there is no consensus on what constitutes fairness. Once equity issues were introduced into the assessment agenda, though, they became important components in defining the search for efficient emissions mitigation pathways. The considerable literature that indicated how environmental policies could be hampered or even blocked by those who considered them unfair became relevant. In light of these results, it became clear how and why any widespread perception that a mitigation strategy is unfair would likely engender opposition to that strategy, perhaps to the extent of rendering it non-optimal (or even infeasible, as could be the case if non-Annex I countries never participate). Some cost-effectiveness analyses had, in fact, laid the groundwork for applying this literature by demonstrating the sensitivity of some equity measures to policy design, national perspective, and regional context. Indeed, cost-effectiveness analyses had even highlighted similar sensitivities for other measures of development and sustainability. As mentioned, the analyses that start from equity concerns have by and large focused on the needs of developing countries, and in particular on the commitment expressed in Article 3.4 of the UNFCCC to the pursuit of sustainable development. Countries differ in ways that have dramatic implications for scenario baselines and the range of mitigation options that can be considered. The climate policies that are feasible, and/or desirable, in a particular country depend significantly on its available resources and institutions, and on its overall objectives including climate change as but one component. Recognizing this heterogeneity may, thus, lead to a different range of policy options than has been considered likely thus far and may reveal differences in the capacities of different sectors that may also enhance appreciation of what can be done by non-state actors to improve their ability to mitigate.

The third perspective is global sustainability and societal learning. While sustainability has been incorporated in the analyses in a number of ways, a class of studies takes the issue of global sustainability as their point of departure. These studies focus on alternative pathways to pursue global sustainability and address issues like decoupling growth from resource flows, for example through eco-intelligent production systems, resource light infrastructure and appropriate technologies, and decoupling wellbeing from production, for example through intermediate performance levels, regionalization of production systems, and changing lifestyles. One popular method for identifying constraints and opportunities within this perspective is to identify future sustainable states and then examine possible transition paths to those states for feasibility and desirability. In the case of developing countries this leads to a number of possible strategies that can depart significantly from those which the developed countries pursued in the past.

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