Working Group III: Mitigation

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1.4.3 Decoupling Wellbeing from Production

Creating an improved, or at least a different, way of life supported by a given set of natural inputs could also enhance the overall resource productivity in society. For developed countries (and the corresponding social sections in developing countries) pursuing such an objective might start from the insight offered by some research that there is no clear link between level of GNP and quality of life (or satisfaction) beyond certain thresholds. Linton (1998) and UNDP (1998) draw this distinction clearly. Both sources argue that the quality of life is determined by subjective and non-subjective variables. On the subjective side, quality of life depends upon personal satisfaction, which in part depends on shared preferences and institutional values. On the non-subjective side, it depends upon opportunity structures, which may include access to nature, participation in community, availability of non-market goods, or public wealth, in addition to purchasing power. This literature describes situations in which GNP growth continues without a corresponding increase in human welfare as “overdevelopment” or “uneconomic growth” (Daly, 1997). For developing countries, however, the research suggests that this decoupling perspective may start from the insight that non-monetary assets (in terms of natural resources, just as in terms of community networks) need to be protected and enhanced to improve the livelihoods of the poorer and less powerful sections of society. Structures, patterns, and rates of economic growth may have to be shaped in such a way that these non-monetary assets are not diminished, but increased.

On both monetary and non-monetary accounts, a decoupling transition to sustainability implies a twin-track strategy. It may be achieved through both an intelligent reinvention of means (“efficiency”) and a prudent moderation of ends (“sufficiency”; Meadows et al., 1992; Sachs et al., 1998) for the sake of both environmental and social sustainability. With regard to the environment, efficiency-centred strategies can have a limit; they can fail to account for the effects of continuing growth (Ayres, 1998). For instance, higher per-unit fuel efficiency of cars may not reduce total gasoline consumption in the long run if growth effects in terms of number, power, and size of cars cancel efficiency gains (see Chapter 3; Pinguelli Rosa and Tolmasquin, 1993).26 With regard to social justice, resource consumption on the part of the rich has been shown, at times, to undermine the environmental sources of livelihood for the poor. Frequently discussed examples are the construction of large dams for urban electricity supply, which displace large numbers of subsistence peasants, or deforestation for industrial purposes, which marginalizes indigenous people living in and from the forest. In contrast to literature that postulates a “trickling-down effect” in the long term, this school of thought is concerned about the social cost in the present. For its proponents, to secure the rights of the most vulnerable would, in many cases, imply moderation of resource extraction in terms of absolute volumes (Gadgil and Guha, 1995). In the light of these reasons, social and technological systems that combine both high eco-efficiency and intermediate performance levels may be the most likely to foster human welfare at a lower cost to the environment and to social justice.

Four dimensions–intermediate performance levels, regionalization, “appropriate” lifestyles, and community resource rights–can be distinguished in the relevant literature. Policy options identified along these four dimensions emerge from a broader concept of climate mitigation than is typically captured in the energy supply and demand technologies represented in existing energy–economic models. Each option has great potential to reduce GHG emissions, but each needs to be evaluated carefully in terms of its impacts on economic, social, and biological systems. This sort of evaluation of opportunity cost has not, however, been reported in the literature under review. Moreover, most authors are ready to admit that the conditions of public acceptance of such options are not often present at the requisite large scale; they emphasize, however, the necessity to explore these options in order to foster long-term social learning processes. Regional views on the need for or feasibility of decoupling wellbeing from production vary widely. This subsection closes with a brief review of each dimension noted here. Intermediate Performance Levels

Most of the literature on resource-efficient technologies takes for granted that performance levels will (and should) increase. For the sake of a broader portfolio of options, however, some analysts question this assumption. It is suggested that to create resource-light economies could imply deliberately designing technologies (e.g., in construction, ventilation, refrigeration, vehicles, crop cultivation, energy delivery systems) with levels of performance that lie below the maximum feasible. These technologies are often more labour intensive. For instance, the higher speed in transportation are (efficiency gains notwithstanding) unlikely to be environmentally sustainable in the long run; moreover, it is doubtful that this trend really enhances the quality of life (Hirsch, 1976; Wachtel, 1994). Designing cars and trains with lower top speeds could give rise to a new generation of moderately motorized vehicles with much lower resource requirements. In general, renewable energy sources and locally adapted materials, it is argued, become more competitive when the performance expectations on the demand side are reduced (Meyer-Abich, 1997). Sails still drive much of ship traffic in parts of the world, as on the Niger and Nile, or the great rivers of China. And bicycles carry a substantial portion of traffic in many regions of the world. Indeed, biomass of all kinds (wood for construction and fuel, plant and animal food and fibre, medicines, dyes, etc.) has been the renewable resource base for humankind since time immemorial. However, to successfully upgrade non-carbon-based technologies, the performance level desired seems to be a critical factor for them to be technically and economically viable. Regionalization

Production and lifestyles based on high volumes of long-distance transportation carry a relatively high load of energy and raw materials. Some researchers argue (Shuman, 1998; Magnaghi, 2000) that a low-input society may require that the economy evolves in a plurality of spaces, in which markets that work with “regional sourcing” and “regional marketing” can co-exist with markets that focus on “global sourcing” and “global marketing”. Avoiding demand for transport rather than just optimizing the modal split between private and public means of transport is often considered the objective of sustainable policies (Whitelegg, 1993), and regionalized economies may be best suited to this objective. Moreover, solar power, which relies on the widespread but diffuse resource of sunlight, may be best developed when many operators harvest small amounts of energy, transforming and consuming the resource at close distance. A similar logic holds for biomass-centred technologies. Plant matter is widespread, available, and heavy in weight; it may be best obtained and processed in a decentralized fashion. For this reason, some analysts argue that a resource-light economy has to be, in part, a regionalized economy. On the other hand, Chapter 2 points out that regionalization may impede technology transfer, leading to higher emissions, other things being equal. “Appropriate” Lifestyles

Many authors question whether the accumulation of individually owned goods beyond a certain threshold continues to increase wellbeing at the same rate. They suggest that individuals and families could be capable of enhancing their personal resource productivity–a goal which, in turn, could be defined as the ability to maintain and/or increase satisfaction with lower and/or intermediate input of resources. Some authors consider intervention in the prevailing narrative of consumption–“more (consumption) is better”–a possible strategy to interrupt the satisfaction–consumption cycle (Common, 1995; Lichtenberg, 1996; Schor, 1998). These approaches draw their motivation from the hypothesis that, ecologically, it is not only the pattern, but also the overall scale of consumption that matters. If this is correct, then social capital in its broadest sense might have to substitute for increased absolute volumes of consumption (Robinson and Herbert, 2000). Chapters 5 and 10 elaborate on the role of lifestyles as a barrier to climate change mitigation, but also as a potential opportunity.

On one level, most resource-intensive consumer goods, in effect, used for only a fraction of time because they are individually owned. Intensity of use could be increased27 through schemes that involve co-ownership, renting, or leasing (Zukunftskommission, 1998). On another level, the marginal utility of more free time increases faster than the marginal utility of more purchasing power for the more affluent parts of society (Schor, 1998). Choosing more wealth in time rather than more wealth in goods and services can be seen as a viable option, which promises to increase freedom while containing consumption levels. Finally, under conditions of “reflexive modernization” (Beck, 1991), consumption styles might emerge that put more emphasis on quality and non-material satisfaction rather than on rising volumes of consumption (Durning, 1992). As consumption activities become reinserted into the broader contexts of human wellbeing, diverse balances may be found between satisfaction derived from the marketplace and satisfaction derived from non-monetary assets (Reisch and Scherhorn, 1999). Community Resource Rights

One-third of mankind derives its sustenance directly from nature (UNDP, 1998, p. 80); and these people live, for the most part, in ecologically fragile areas. Environmental resources are valued as a source of livelihood by groups as diverse as the fisherfolk of Kerala, the forest dwellers of the Amazon, the herders of Tanzania, and the peasants of Mexico (Ghai and Vivian, 1992). In such cases, households rely on non-market goods and natural habitats for important inputs into the production system (Cavendish, 1996). Many of these communities, over the centuries, developed complex and ingenious systems of institutions and rules to regulate ownership and use of natural resources in such a way that an equilibrium between resource extraction and resource preservation could be achieved. However, particularly under the pressure of the resource needs brought forth by individuals with relatively high energy consumption, the basis of their livelihood has been undermined, degrading their dignity and sending many of them into misery (Kates, 2000). Under these circumstances, sustainable development may mean, in the first place, ensuring the rights of communities over their own resources. Properly arranged, and in concert with competitive markets and astute institutional arrangements, resource rights could make investment consistent with community values and associated positive effects on climate change mitigation. Use of ecologically sustainable resources can be made a matter of self-interest. Well-designed resource-right mechanisms permit resource users to use new information and new technology and pursue new market opportunities. Resource use by outsiders becomes a matter of negotiation or trading on more equal terms, which protects the economic security of the communities involved. Better access to resources could offer new opportunities to increase the productivity of all components of the village ecosystem–from grazing and forestlands to croplands, water systems, and animals. This may, in turn, enhance people’s wellbeing, which in these circumstances depends on increasing and regenerating biomass in an equitable and sustainable manner. It is well known from the economics literature that the management of common property resources seems to work best when group members can draw on trust and reciprocity, have some autonomy to make their own rules, and perceive to gain benefits from their efforts (Ostrom et al., 2000).

To summarize, we have examined three different perspectives that approach climate change mitigation from different vantage points–cost-effectiveness, equity, and sustainability–but converge in terms of the comprehensive set of goals to be pursued. However, the three perspectives use different analytical tools and causal relationships, and often provide different policy guidance. The main message of this chapter is that these three perspectives are complementary in nature, and can be helpful for the policymaker if used in conjunction. However, this does raise the issue of how to choose between various policy options and how to prioritize actions in the face of possibly divergent advice.

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