10.3.2.2 Technological and Policy Options and Choices
It is clear from the preceding discussion that governments commitments
to sustainable development require indicators by which decision makers can evaluate
their performance in achieving specific goals and targets. Furthermore, such
indicators are essential, first to capture the complex interlinkages between
the basic building blocks of sustainable development (environment, economic
activity, and the social fabric), and second to balance the unavoidable trade-offs
between the main policy issues related to each of these blocks (development,
equity, and sustainability).
It is difficult to generalize about sustainable development policies and choices.
Sustainability implies and requires diversity, flexibility, and innovation.
Thus, there cannot be one rightful path of sustainable development
that leads finally to a blissful state of sustainability (Bossel, 1998). Depending
upon differences among individual countries (size, level of industrialization,
cultural values, etc.) as well as on the heterogeneity within countries, policy
choices are meant to introduce changes in:
- Technological patterns of natural resource use, production of goods and
services, and final consumption. These encompass individual technological
options and choices as well as overall technological systems. Sustainable
development on a global scale requires radical technological changes focused
on the efficient use of materials and energy for the sufficient coverage of
needs, and with minimum impact on the environment, society, and future. This
is of particular importance in developing countries, in which a major part
of the infrastructure needed can avoid past practices and move more rapidly
towards technologies that use resources in a more sustainable way, recycle
more wastes and products, and handle residual wastes in a more acceptable
manner. As discussed in Chapter 3, the range of opportunities
is extensive enough to cope with different development styles and national
circumstances, but what is even more important, economic potential increases
as result of the continuous process of technological change and innovation.
A number of technologies that less than 10 years ago were at the laboratory-prototype
stage are now available in the markets. Issues on barriers and opportunities
for technology development, transfer, and diffusion at the national level
are discussed in Chapter 5 and Section
- Structural changes in the production system. Economic growth continues
to be a widely pursued objective of most governments and, therefore, policy
decisions on development patterns may have direct impacts on both raw material
and the energy content of production. Structural changes towards services
or a low energy-intensity industrial base may or may not affect the overall
level of economic activity, but could have significant impacts on the energy
content of goods and services.
- Spatial distribution patterns of population and economic activities.
Country-wide policies on the geographical distribution of human settlements
and productive activities impact on sustainable development at three levels:
on the evolution of land uses, on mobility needs and transport requirements,
and on the energy requirements. These factors are of utmost relevance for
most developing countries, in which spatial distributions of the population
and of economic activities are not yet settled. Therefore, these countries
are in a position to adopt urban and/or regional planning and industrial policies
directed towards a more balanced use of their geographical space.
- Behavioural patterns that determine the evolution of lifestyles.
Consumption behaviours, and individual choices in general, have a critical
influence on sustainable development. After all, sustainability is a global
project that requires big and small daily contributions from almost everybody
(Bossel, 1998). Personal opportunities and freedom of choices are embedded
in cultures and habits, but these are also shaped and supported by the products
and services provided by the economic system, as well as by the organization
and administration at all levels. Within the boundaries of individual freedom,
government policies can discourage unsound consumption styles and encourage
more sustainable social behaviour through the adoption of financial incentives
(subsidies), disincentives (taxes), legal constraints, and the provision of
wider choices of infrastructure and services. This point is elaborated further
in Section 10.3.2.3.
The set of specific policies, measures, and instruments to mitigate climate
change and consequently promote sustainable development is quite large. These
include generic policies oriented to induce changes in the behaviour of economic
agents, or control and regulatory measures to achieve specific targets at the
sectoral level. A comprehensive discussion of various aspects of different types
of policies and measures is presented in Chapter 6.
Here it is important to note, first, that sustainability issues cannot be addressed
by single isolated measures, but they require a whole set of integrated and
mutually reinforced policies. Second, weights assigned to different policies
depend on individual countries according to their national circumstances and
specific priorities. Third, the causeeffect reaction in the process of
policy implementation is not linear. Except in trivial cases, policies tend
to disrupt existing patterns, social systems create and respond to changes within
themselves through feedback loops, and new patterns emerge as social, economic,
and environmental aspects interact in the process of convergence towards the