IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group III: Mitigation of Climate Change

12.3 Implications of mitigation choices for sustainable development goals

The evolution of the concept of sustainable development with emphasis on its two-way linkage to climate change mitigation is discussed in Section 12.1, and the link between the role of development paths and actors or stakeholders that could make development more sustainable by taking climate change into consideration is explored in Section 12.2.The reverse linkages are summarized in Section 12.3, and the literature on impacts of climate mitigation on attributes of sustainable development is assessed.

The sectoral chapters (Chapters 411) provide an overview of the impacts of the implementation of many mitigation technologies and practices that are being or may be deployed at various scales in the world. In this section, the information from the sectoral chapters is summarized and supplemented with findings from the sustainable development literature. Synergies with local sustainable development goals, conditions for their successful implementation, and trade-offs where the climate mitigation and local sustainable development may be at odds with each other are discussed (see overview Table 12.4). In addition, the implications of policy instruments on sustainable development goals are described in Section 12.3.5, with the focus on the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM).

Table 12.4: Sectoral mitigation options and sustainable development (economic, local environmental and social) considerations: synergies and trade-offs a)

Sector and mitigation options Potential sustainable development synergies and conditions for implementation Potential sustainable development trade-offs 
Energy Supply and Use: Chapters 4-7 

Energy efficiency improvement in all sectors (buildings, transportation, industry, and energy supply: Chapters 4-7)


- Almost always cost-effective, reduces or eliminates local pollutant emissions and consequent health impacts, improves indoor comfort and reduces indoor noise level, creates business opportunity and jobs, and improves energy security

- Government and industry programmes can help overcome lack of information and principal agent problems

- Programmes can be implemented at all levels of government and industry

- Important to ensure that low-income household energy needs are given due consideration, and that the process and consequences of implementing mitigation options are, or the result is, gender-neutral


- Indoor air pollution and health impacts of improving biomass cook stove thermal efficiency in developing country rural areas are uncertain


Fuel switching and other options in the transportation and buildings sectors (Chapters 5 and 6)


- CO2 reduction costs may be offset by increased health benefits

- Promotion of public transport and non-motorized transport has large and consistent social benefits

- Switching from solid fuels to modern fuels for cooking and heating indoors can reduce indoor air pollution and increase free time for women in developing countries

- Institutionalizing planning systems for CO2 reduction through coordination between national and local governments is important for drawing up common strategies for sustainable transportation systems


- Diesel engines are generally more fuel-efficient than gasoline engines and thus have lower CO2 emissions, but increase particle emissions

- Other measures (CNG buses, hybrid diesel-electric buses and taxi renovation) may provide little climate benefits


Replacing imported fossil fuel with domestic alternative energy sources (DAES: Chapter 4)


- Important to ensure that DAES is cost-effective

- Reduces local air pollutant emissions.

- Can create new indigenous industries (e.g., Brazil ethanol programme) and hence generate employment


- Balance of trade improvement is traded off against increased capital required for investment

- Fossil-fuel-exporting countries may face reduced exports

- Hydropower plants may displace local populations and cause environmental damages to water bodies and biodiversity


Replacing domestic fossil fuel with imported alternative energy sources (IAES: Chapter 4)


- Almost always reduces local pollutant emissions

- Implementation may be more rapid than DAES

- Important to ensure that IAES is cost-effective

- Economies and societies of energy-exporting countries would benefit


- Could reduce energy security

- Balance of trade may worsen but capital needs may decline

Forestry Sector: Chapter 9 



- Can reduce wasteland, arrest soil degradation, and manage water runoff

- Can retain soil carbon stocks if soil disturbance at planting and harvesting is minimized

- Can be implemented as agro-forestry plantations that enhance food production

- Can generate rural employment and create rural industry

- Clear delineation of property rights would expedite implementation of forestation programmes


- Use of scarce land could compete with agricultural land and diminish food security while increasing food costs

- Monoculture plantations can reduce biodiversity and are more vulnerable to diseases

- Conversion of floodplain and wetland could hamper ecological functions


Avoided deforestation


- Can retain biodiversity, water and soil management benefits, and local rainfall patterns

- Reduce local haze and air pollution from forest fires

- If suitably managed, it can bring revenue from ecotourism and from sustainably harvested timber sales

- Successful implementation requires involving local dwellers in land management and/or providing them alternative livelihoods, enforcing laws to prevent migrants from encroaching on forest land


- Can result in loss of economic welfare for certain stakeholders in forest exploitation (land owners, migrant workers)

- Reduced timber supply may lead to reduced timber exports and increased use of GHG-intensive construction materials

- Can result in deforestation with consequent sustainable development implications elsewhere


Forest Management


- See afforestation


- Fertilizer application can increase N2O production and nitrate runoff degrading local (ground)water quality

- Prevention of fires and pests has short term benefits but can increase fuel stock for later fires unless managed properly


Table 12.4 continued

Sector and mitigation options Potential sustainable development synergies and conditions for implementation Potential sustainable development trade-offs 
Bioenergy (Chapter 8 and 9
Bioenergy production - Mostly positive when practised with crop residues (shells, husks, bagasse, and/or tree trimmings) - Creates rural employment - Planting crops/trees exclusively for bioenergy requires that adequate agricultural land and labour is available to avoid competition with food production - Can have negative environmental consequences if practised unsustainably - biodiversity loss, water resource competition, increased use of fertilizer and pesticides - Potential problem with food security (location specific) and increased food costs 
Agriculture: Chapter 8 
Cropland management (management of nutrients, tillage, residues, and agro-forestry) Cropland management (water, rice, and set-aside) - Improved nutrient management can improve ground water quality and environmental health of the cultivated ecosystem - Changes in water policies could lead to clash of interests and threaten social cohesiveness - Could lead to water overuse  
Grazing land management - Improves livestock productivity, reduces desertification, and provide social security to the poor - Requires laws and enforcement to ban free grazing   
Livestock management - Mix of traditional rice cultivation and livestock management would enhance incomes even in semi arid and arid regions   
Waste Management: Chapter 10 
Engineered sanitary landfilling with landfill gas recovery - Can eliminate uncontrolled dumping and open burning of waste, improving health and safety for workers and residents - Sites can provide local energy benefits and public spaces for recreation and other social purposes within the urban infrastructure  - When done unsustainably can cause leaching that leads to soil and groundwater contamination with potentially negative health impacts 
Biological processes for waste and wastewater (composting, anaerobic digestion, aerobic and anaerobic wastewater processes) - Can destroy pathogens and provide useful soil amendments if properly implemented using source-separated organic waste or collected wastewater - Can generate employment - Anaerobic processes can provide energy benefits from CH4 recovery and use - A source of odours and water pollution if not properly controlled and monitored 
Incineration and other thermal processes - Obtain the most energy benefit from waste - Expensive relative to controlled landfilling and composting - Unsustainable in developing countries if technical infrastructure not present - Additional investment for air pollution controls and source separation needed to prevent emissions of heavy metals and other air toxics 
Recycling, reuse, and waste minimization - Provide local employment as well as reductions in energy and raw materials for recycled products - Can be aided by NGO efforts, private capital for recycling industries, enforcement of environmental regulations, and urban planning to segregate waste treatment and disposal activities from community life. - Uncontrolled waste scavenging results in severe health and safety problems for those who make their living from waste - Development of local recycling industries requires capital. 


a) Material drawn from Chapters 4 to 11. New material is referenced in the accompanying text below that describes the sustainable development implications of mitigation options in each sector.

As documented in the sectoral chapters, mitigation options often have positive effects on aspects of sustainability, but may not always be sustainable with respect to all three dimensions of sustainable development - economic, environmental and social. For example, removing subsidies for coal increases its price and creates unemployment of coal mine workers, independently of the actual mitigation (IPCC, 2001). In some cases, the positive effects on sustainability are more indirect, because they are the results of side-effects of reducing GHG emissions. Therefore, it is not always possible to assess the net outcome of the various effects.

The sustainable development benefits of mitigation options vary over sectors and regions. Generally, mitigation options that improve productivity of resource use, whether it is energy, water, or land, yield positive benefits across all three dimensions of sustainable development. In the agricultural sector (Table 8.8), for instance, improved management practices for rice cultivation and grazing land, and use of bioenergy and efficient cooking stoves enhance productivity, and promote social harmony and gender equality. Other categories of mitigation options have a more uncertain impact and depend on the wider socio-economic context within which the option is being implemented.

Some mitigation activities, particularly in the land use sector, have GHG benefits that may be of limited duration. A finite amount of land area is available for forestation, for instance, which limits the amount of carbon that a region can sequester. And, certain practices are carried out in rotation over years and/or across landscapes, which too limit the equilibrium amount of carbon that can be sequestered. Thus, the incremental sustainable development gains would reach an equilibrium condition after some decades, unless the land yields biofuel that is used as a substitute for fossil fuels.

The sectoral discussion below focuses on the three aspects of sustainable development - economic, environmental, and social. Economic implications include costs and overall welfare. Sectoral costs of various mitigation policies have been widely studied and a range of cost estimates are reported for each sector at both the global and country-specific levels in the sectoral Chapters 4 to 10. Yet, mitigation costs are just one part of the broader economic impacts of sustainable development . Other impacts include growth and distribution of income, employment and availability of jobs, government fiscal budgets, and competitiveness of the economy or sector within a globalizing market.

Environmental impacts include those occurring in local areas on air, water, and land, including the loss of biodiversity. Virtually all forms of energy supply and use, and land-use change activity cause some level of environmental damage. GHG emissions are often directly related to the emissions of other pollutants, either airborne, for example, sulphur dioxide from burning coal which causes local or indoor air pollution, or waterborne, for example, from leaching of nitrates from fertilizer application in intensive agriculture.

The social dimension includes issues such as gender equality, governance, equitable income distribution, housing and education opportunity, health impacts, and corruption. Most mitigation options will impact one or more of these issues, and both benefits and trade-offs are likely.