IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability

5.7 Implications for sustainable development

Human societies have, through the centuries, often developed the capacity to adapt to environmental change, and some knowledge about the implications of climate change adaptation for sustainable development can thus be deduced from historical analogues (Diamond, 2004; Easterling et al., 2004).

Unilateral adaptation measures to water shortage related to climate change can lead to competition for water resources and, potentially, to conflict and backlash for development. International and regional approaches are required to develop joint solutions, such as the three-border project Trifinio in Lempa valley between Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador (Dalby, 2004). Shifts in land productivity may lead to a shift in agriculture and livestock systems in some regions, and to agricultural intensification in others. This results not only in environmental benefits, such as less habitat loss and lower carbon emissions (Goklany, 1998, 2005), but also in environmental costs, such as soil degradation, siltation, reduced biodiversity and others (Stoate et al., 2001).

Adaptive measures in response to habitat and ecosystem shifts, such as expansion of agriculture into previously forested areas, will lead to additional loss and fragmentation of habitats. Currently, deforestation, mainly a result of conversion of forests to agricultural land, continues at a rate of 13 million ha/yr (FAO, 2005b). The degradation of ecosystem services not only poses a barrier to achieving sustainable development in general, but also to meeting specific international development goals, notably the MDGs (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005). The largest forest losses have occurred in South America and Africa, often in countries marked by high reliance on solid fuels, low levels of access to safe water and sanitation, and the slowest progress towards the MDG targets. Response strategies aimed at minimising such losses will have to focus increasingly on regional and international landscape development (Opdam and Wascher, 2004).

Impacts on trade, economic development and environmental quality, as well as land use, may also be expected from measures to substitute fossil fuels with biofuels, such as the European Biomass Action Plan. It may be necessary to balance competition between the energy and forest products sectors for raw materials, and competition for land for biofuels, food and forestry.

Sustainable economic development and poverty reduction remain top priorities for developing countries (Aggarwal et al., 2004). Climate change could exacerbate climate-sensitive hurdles to sustainable development faced by developing countries (Goklany, 2007). This will require integrated approaches to concurrently advance adaptation, mitigation and sustainable development. Goklany (2007) also offers a portfolio of pro-active strategies and measures, including measures that would simultaneously reduce pressures on biodiversity, hunger and carbon sinks. Moreover, any adaptation measures should be developed as part of, and be closely integrated into, overall and country-specific development programmes and strategies, e.g., into Poverty Reduction Strategy Programmes (Eriksen and Naess, 2003) and pro-poor strategies (Kurukulasuriya and Rosenthal, 2003), and should be understood as a ‘shared responsibility’ (Ravindranath and Sathaye, 2002).