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

3.1.3 Development trends and the lock-in effect of infrastructure choices

An important consideration in scenario generation is the nature of the economic development process and whether (and to what extent) developing countries will follow the development pathways of industrialized countries with respect to energy use and GHG emissions. The ‘lock-in’ effects of infrastructure, technology and product design choices made by industrialized countries in the post-World War II period of low energy prices are responsible for the major recent increase in world GHG emissions. A simple mimicking by developing countries of the development paradigm established by industrialized countries could lead to a very large increase in global GHG emissions (see Chapter 2). It may be noted, however, that energy/GDP elasticities in industrialized countries have first increased in successive stages of industrialization, with acceleration during the 1950s and 1960s, but have fallen sharply since then, due to factors such as relative growth of services in GDP share, technical progress induced by higher oil prices and energy conservation efforts.

In developing countries, where a major part of the infrastructure necessary to meet development needs is still to be built, the spectrum of future options is considerably wider than in industrialized countries (e.g. on energy, see IEA, 2004). The spatial distribution of the population and economic activities is still not settled, opening the possibility of adopting industrial policies directed towards rural development and integrated urban, regional, and transportation planning, thereby avoiding urban sprawl and facilitating more efficient transportation and energy systems. The main issue is the magnitude and viability to tap the potential for technological ‘leapfrogging’, whereby developing countries can bypass emissions-intensive intermediate technology and jump straight to cleaner technologies. There are technical possibilities for less energy-intensive development patterns in the long run, leading to low carbon futures in southern countries that are compatible with national objectives (see e.g. La Rovere and Americano, 2002). Section 12.2 of Chapter 12 develops this argument further.

On the other hand, the barriers to such development pathways should not be underestimated, going from financial constraints to cultural behaviours in industrialized and developing countries, including the lack of appropriate institution building. One of the key findings of the reviewed literature is the long-term implications for GHG emissions of short- and medium-term decisions concerning the building of new infrastructure, particularly in developing countries (see e.g. La Rovere and Americano, 2002; IEA, 2004).