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

12 Sustainable development and mitigation

Relationship between sustainable development and climate change mitigation

The concept of sustainable development was adopted by the World Commission on Environment and Development and there is agreement that sustainable development involves a comprehensive and integrated approach to economic, social and environmental processes. Discussions on sustainable development, however, have focused primarily on the environmental and economic dimensions. The importance of social, political and cultural factors is only now getting more recognition. Integration is essential in order to articulate development trajectories that are sustainable, including addressing the climate change problem [12.1].

Although still in the early stages, there is growing use of indicators to measure and manage the sustainability of development at the macro and sectoral levels, which is driven in part by the increasing emphasis on accountability in the context of governance and strategy initiatives. At the sectoral level, progress towards sustainable development is beginning to be measured and reported by industry and governments using, inter alia, green certification, monitoring tools or emissions registries. Review of the indicators shows, however, that few macro-indicators include measures of progress with respect to climate change (high agreement, much evidence) [12.1.3].

Climate change is influenced not only by the climate-specific policies that are put in place (the ‘climate first approach’), but also by the mix of development choices that are made and the development trajectories that these policies lead to (the ‘develop-ment first approach’) - a point reinforced by global scenario analysis published since the TAR. Making development more sustainable by changing development paths can thus make a significant contribution to climate goals. It is important to note, however, that changing development pathways is not about choosing a mapped-out path, but rather about navigating through an uncharted and evolving landscape (high agreement, much evidence) [12.1.1].

It has further been argued that sustainable development might decrease the vulnerability of all countries, and particularly of developing countries, to climate change impacts. Framing the debate as a development problem rather than an environmental one may better address the immediate goals of all countries, particularly developing countries and their special vulnerability to climate change, while at the same time addressing the driving forces for emissions that are linked to the underlying development path [12.1.2].