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

12.1 Introduction

The concept of sustainable development had its roots in the idea of a sustainable society (Brown, 1981) and in the management of renewable and non-renewable resources. The concept was introduced in the World Conservation Strategy by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN, 1980). The World Commission on Environment and Development adopted the concept and launched sustainability into political, public and academic discourses. The concept was defined as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (WCED, 1987; Bojo et al., 1992). While this definition is commonly cited, there are divergent views in academic and policy circles on the concept and how to apply it in practice (Banuri et al., 2001; Cocklin, 1995; Pezzoli, 1997; Robinson and Herbert, 2001).

The discussion on sustainable development in the IPCC process has evolved since the First Assessment Report which focused on the technology and cost-effectiveness of mitigation activities. This focus was broadened in the Second Assessment Report (SAR) to include issues related to equity, both procedural and consequential, and across countries and generations, and to environmental (Hourcade et al., 2001) and social considerations (IPCC, 1996). The Third Assessment Report (TAR) further broadened the treatment of sustainable development by addressing issues related to global sustainability (IPCC, 2001b, Chapter 1). The report noted three broad classes of analyses or perspectives: efficiency and cost-effectiveness; equity and sustainable development; and global sustainability and societal learning. The preparation of TAR was supported by IPCC Expert Group Meetings specially targeted at sustainable development and social dimensions of climate change. These groups noted the various ways that the TAR treatment of sustainable development could be improved (Munasinghe and Swart, 2000; Jochem et al., 2001).

In light of this evolution, each chapter of this Fourth Assessment Report focuses to some extent on the links to sustainable development practices. Chapter 1 introduces the concept, Chapter 2 provides a framework for understanding the economic, environmental, and social dimensions, and Chapter 3 addresses the issue of development choices for climate change mitigation in a modelling context. The sector Chapters 4 to 10 and the cross-sectoral Chapter 11 examine the impacts of mitigation options on sustainable development goals; and Chapter 13 describes the extent to which sustainable development is addressed in international policies. Further, IPCC (2007) devotes two chapters that are linked to the mitigation discussion in this report. Chapter 17 in IPCC (2007) considers adaptation practices, options, constraints and capacity, while Chapter 18 examines the inter-relationships between adaptation and mitigation. Finally, Chapter 20 contains discussions of adaptation and sustainable development.

As in the aforementioned chapters, climate change policies can be considered in their own right (‘climate first’). Most policy literature about climate change mitigation, and necessarily most of this assessment, focuses on government-driven, climate-specific measures that, through different mechanisms, directly constrain GHG emissions. Such measures will compose an essential element for managing the risks of climate change.

Nevertheless, the greater emphasis in Section 12.2 is on other approaches that may be necessary to go beyond the scope of climate specific actions. Climate change mitigation is treated as an integral element of sustainable development policies (‘development first’). Decisions that may seem unrelated to climate policy can have profound impacts on emissions. This analysis does not suggest or imply that non-climate actions can displace climate-specific measures. It emphasizes what more developed and developing countries can do to alter emissions paths in the absence of direct constraints on emissions. Such indirect approaches to climate mitigation are especially relevant in developing countries where mandatory, climate-specific measures are controversial and, at best, prospective.

The relationship between economic development and climate change is of particular importance to developing countries because of where they are in their development process and also because of the particular climate challenges that many of them face. This chapter, therefore, gives particular emphasis to the notion of “making development more sustainable”. Making development more sustainable recognizes that there are many ways in which societies balance the economic, social, and environmental, including climate change, dimensions of sustainable development. It also admits the possibility of conflict and trade-offs between measures that advance one aspect of sustainable development while harming another (Munasinghe, 2000).

This chapter (1) describes the evolution of the concept of sustainable development with emphasis on its two-way linkage to climate change mitigation (Section 12.1); (2) explores ways to make development more sustainable, - the role of development paths, how these can be changed, and the role that state, market, and civil society could play in mainstreaming climate change mitigation into development choices (Section 12.2); and (3) summarizes the impacts of climate mitigation on attributes of sustainable development (Section 12.3).