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

12.2.1 Multiplicity of plausible development pathways ahead, with different economic, social and environmental content

Climate policy alone will not solve the climate problem. Making development more sustainable by changing development paths can make a major contribution to climate goals. One of the major findings of TAR in terms of sustainable development was that development choices matter (Banuri et al., 2001). The literature on long-term climate scenarios (Metz et al., 2002; Nakicenovic et al., 2000; Swart et al., 2003), and especially the SRES Report (Morita et al., 2000), points to the same conclusion. Climate outcomes are influenced not only by climate specific policies but also by the mix of development choices made and the development paths that these policies lead to. There are always going to be a variety of development pathways[3] that could possibly be followed and they might lead to future outcomes at global, national, and local levels. The choice of development policies can, therefore, be as consequential to future climate stabilization as the choice of climate-specific policies.

Development pathways can be useful ways to think about possible, even plausible, future states of the world. Over the last century, for example, human health has been improved significantly in most of the world under very different socio-economic pathways and health care systems (e.g., see CGD, 2004; OECD, 2005). Countries have made different decisions with respect to health care, leading to a wide variety of different systems, with still a large divide between industrialized and developing countries (Redclift and Benton, 2006). But in general, the chosen strategies have in common that they have contributed to marked health improvements in almost all regions. Advances have been uneven and improvements are under constant pressure from new developments (e.g., AIDS, new infectious diseases). In general, the health example suggests that human choice can make a positive contribution towards reaching a common goal (Frenk et al., 1993; Smith, 1997). The same could be true for sustainable development in general, and reduced GHG emissions in particular. But changing a development pathway is not about choosing a mapped out path, but rather about navigating through an uncharted and evolving landscape.

Developing scenarios depicting possible development pathways can falsely suggest that these are in some sense latent pathways or routes through the future that have been uncovered through insight or research. In reality, well-defined development pathways are not waiting to be selected. Even understanding the much smaller set of current development paths can be difficult. These are not simply the result of previous policies or decisions of governments, although these certainly affect the outcomes. As Shove et al. (1998) argue with respect to energy usage, the present is the result of myriad small activities and practices adopted or developed in the course of everyday life.

In reviewing the literature on development pathways, and in respecting the caveats described above, three key lessons emerge:

  • Development paths as well as climate policy determine GHG emissions;
  • New global scenario analyses confirm the importance of development pathways for climate change mitigation;
  • Development paths can vary by regions and countries because of different priorities and conditions.

These three findings are discussed in the following section.

  1. ^  Development paths are defined here as a complex array of technological, economic, social, institutional, cultural, and biophysical characteristics that determines the interactions between human and natural systems, including consumption and production patterns in all countries, over time at a particular scale. In the TAR, “alternative development paths” referred to a variety of possible development paths, including a continuation of current trends, but also a variety of other paths. To avoid confusion, the word ‘alternative’ is avoided in the current report. Development paths will be different in scope and timing in different countries, and can be different for different regions within countries with large differences in internal regional characteristics.