IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability

18.6 Response capacity and development pathways

As outlined in the TAR (IPCC, 2001c, Chapter 18 and IPCC, 2001b, Chapter 1) and discussed at more length in Chapter 17 of this volume and in the WGIII AR4, Chapter 12 (Sathaye et al., 2007), the ability to implement specific adaptation and mitigation measures is dependent upon the existence and nature of adaptive and mitigative capacity, which makes such measures possible and affects their extent and effectiveness. In that sense, specific adaptation and mitigation measures are rooted in their respective capacities (Yohe, 2001; Adger et al., 2003; Adger and Vincent, 2005; Brooks et al., 2005).

Adaptive capacity has been defined in this volume (see Chapter 17) as “the ability or potential of a system to respond successfully to climate variability and change.” In a parallel way, mitigative capacity has been defined as the “ability to diminish the intensity of the natural (and other) stresses to which it might be exposed” (see Rogner et al., 2007). Since this definition suggests that a group’s capacity to mitigate hinges on the severity of impacts to which it is exposed, Winkler et al. (2007) have suggested that capacity be defined instead as “a country’s ability to reduce anthropogenic greenhouse gases or enhance natural sinks”. Clearly these two categories are closely related although, in accordance with the differences between adaptation and mitigation measures discussed in Section 18.1, capacities also differ somewhat. In particular, since adaptation measures tend to be both more geographically dispersed and smaller in scale than mitigation measures (Dang et al., 2003; Ruth, 2005), adaptive capacities refer to a slightly broader and more general set of capabilities than mitigative capacities. Despite these minor differences, however, adaptive and mitigative capacities are driven by similar sets of factors.

The term response capacity may be used to describe the ability of humans to manage both the generation of greenhouse gases and the associated consequences (Tompkins and Adger, 2005). As such, response capacity represents a broad pool of resources, many of which are related to a group or nation’s level of socio-technical and economic development, which may be translated into either adaptive or mitigative capacity. Socio-cultural dimensions such as belief systems and cultural values, which are often not addressed to the same extent as economic elements (Handmer et al., 1999), can also affect response capacity (see IPCC, 2001b; Sathaye et al., 2007).

Although the concept of response capacity is new to the IPCC and has yet to be sufficiently investigated in the literature, efforts have been made to define the nature and determinants of its conceptual components: adaptive and mitigative capacity. With regard to mitigative capacity, Yohe (2001) has suggested the following list of determinants, which play out at the national level:

  • range of viable technological options for reducing emissions;
  • range of viable policy instruments with which the country might affect the adoption of these options;
  • structure of critical institutions and the derivative allocation of decision-making authority;
  • availability and distribution of resources required to underwrite the adoption of mitigation policies and the associated broadly-defined opportunity cost of devoting those resources to mitigation;
  • stock of human capital, including education and personal security;
  • stock of social capital, including the definition of property rights;
  • a country’s access to risk-spreading processes (e.g., insurance, options and futures markets);
  • the ability of decision-makers to manage information, the processes by which these decision-makers determine which information is credible, and the credibility of decision-makers themselves.

In the context of developing countries, many of which possess limited institutional capacity and access to resources, mitigative and adaptive capacity could be fashioned by additional determinants. For instance, political will and the intent of decision-makers, and the ability of societies to form networks through collective action that insulates them against the impacts of climate change (Woolcock and Narayan, 2000), may be especially important in developing countries, especially in societies where policy instruments are not fully developed and where institutional capacity and access to resources are limited.

Yohe suggests a similar set of determinants for adaptive capacity, but adds the availability of resources and their distribution across the population. Recent research has sought to offer empirical evidence that demonstrates the relative influence of each of these determinants on actual adaptation (Yohe and Tol, 2002). In particular, this research indicates that the influence of each determinant of capacity is highly location-specific and path-dependent, thus revealing the importance of investigations into micro- and macro-scale determinants that influence capacity across multiple stressors (Yohe and Tol, 2002). These determinants of both adaptive and mitigative capacity expand on those identified in the TAR and agree closely with those offered by Moss et al. (2001) and Adger et al. (2004). The linkages between adaptive and mitigative capacity are demonstrated by the striking similarities between these sets of determinants, which show that both the ability to adapt and the ability to mitigate depend on a mix of social, biophysical and technological constraints (Tompkins and Adger, 2005). Recent research has pointed to the necessity of broadening these lists of determinants to include other important factors such as socio-political aspirations (Haddad, 2005), risk perception, perceived adaptive capacity (Grothmann and Patt, 2005) and political will (Winkler et al., 2007).

These discussions of determinants indicate the close connection that exists between response capacities and the underlying socio-economic and technological development paths that give rise to those capacities. In several important respects, the determinants listed above are important characteristics of such development paths. Those development paths, in turn, underpin the baseline and stabilisation emissions scenarios discussed in the WGIII AR4, Chapter 3 (Fisher et al., 2007) and used to estimate emissions, climate change and associated climate-change impacts. As a result, the determinants of response capacity can be expected to vary across the underlying emissions scenarios reviewed in this report. The climate change and climate-change impact scenarios assessed in this report will be primarily based on the SRES storylines, which define a spectrum of different development paths, each with associated socio-economic and technological conditions and driving forces (for an extended discussion of emissions pathways and climate policies, see Fisher et al., 2007). Each storyline will therefore give rise to a different set of response capacities, and thus to different likely, or even possible, levels of adaptation and mitigation.

Adaptation and mitigation measures, furthermore, are rooted in adaptive and mitigative capacities, which are in turn contained within, and strongly affected by, the nature of the development path in which they exist. The concept of development paths is discussed at more length in the WGIII AR4 in Chapters 2 (Halsnaes et al., 2007), 3 (Fisher et al., 2007) and 12 (Sathaye et al., 2007). Here, it is sufficient to think of a development path as a complex array of technological, economic, social, institutional and cultural characteristics that define an integrated trajectory of the interaction between human and natural systems over time at a particular scale. Such technological and socio-economic development pathways find their most common expression in the form of integrated scenarios (Geels and Smit, 2000; Grubb et al., 2002; Swart et al., 2003; see also WGIII AR4, Chapter 3), but are also incorporated into studies of technological diffusion (Foray and Grubler, 1996; Dupuy, 1997; Andersen, 1998; Grubler, 2000; Berkhout, 2002; Rogers, 2003), socio-technical systems (Geels, 2004) and situations in which large physical infrastructures and the requisite supportive organisational, cultural and institutional systems create conditions of quasi-irreversibility (Arthur, 1989; Sarkar, 1998; Geels, 2005; Unruh and Carrillo-Hermosilla, 2006). Technological and social pathways co-evolve through a process of learning, coercion and negotiation (Rip and Kemp, 1998), creating integrated socio-technical systems that strongly condition responses to risks such as climate change.

In the climate-change context, the TAR noted that “climate change is thus a potentially critical factor in the larger process of society’s adaptive response to changing historical conditions through its choice of developmental paths” (Banuri et al., 2001). Later in the same volume, the following typology of critical components of development paths is presented (Toth et al., 2001):

  • technological patterns of natural resource use, production of goods and services and final consumption,
  • structural changes in the production system,
  • spatial distribution patterns of population and economic activities,
  • behavioural patterns that determine the evolution of lifestyles.

The influence of economic trajectories and structures on the adaptability of a nation’s development path is important in terms of the patterns of carbon-intensive production and consumption that generate greenhouse gases (Smil, 2000; Ansuategi and Escapa, 2002), the costs of policies that drive efficiency gains through technological change (Azar and Dowlatabadi, 1999), and the occurrence of market failures which lead to unsustainable patterns of energy use and technology adoption (Jaffe and Stavins, 1994; Jaffe et al., 2005).

In addition to these components, scholars from widely varying disciplines and backgrounds have noted the importance of institutional structures and trajectories (Olsen and March, 1989; Agrawal, 2001; Pierson, 2004; Adger et al., 2005; Ruth, 2005) and cultural factors such as values (Stern and Dietz, 1994; Baron and Spranca, 1997), discourses (Adger et al., 2001) and social rules (Geels, 2004), as elements of development paths that help determine the ability of a system to respond to change.

The importance of the connection between measures, capacities and development paths is threefold. First, as pointed out in the TAR, a full analysis of the potential for adaptation or mitigation policies must also include some consideration of the capacities in which these policies are rooted. This is increasingly being reflected in the literature being assessed in both regional/sectoral and conceptual chapters of this assessment. Second, such an analysis of response capacities should, in turn, encompass the nature and potential variability of underlying development paths that strongly affect the nature and extent of those capacities. This suggests the desirability of an integrated analysis of climate policy options that assesses the linkages between policy options, response capacities and their determinants, and underlying development pathways. Although such an integrated assessment was proposed in the Synthesis Report of the TAR (IPCC, 2001a), this type of assessment is still in its infancy.

Third, the linkages between climate policy measures and development paths described here suggest a potential disconnection between the degree of adaptation and/or mitigation that is possible and that which may be desired in a given situation. On the one hand, the development path will determine the response capacity of the scenario. On the other, the development path will strongly influence levels of greenhouse-gas emissions, associated climate change, the likely degree of climate-change impacts and thus the desired mitigation and/or adaptation in that scenario (Naki?enovi? and Swart, 2000; Metz et al., 2002; Swart et al., 2003).

However, there is no particular reason that the response capacity and desired levels of mitigation and/or adaptation will change in compatible ways. As a result, particular development paths might give rise to levels of desired adaptation and mitigation that are at odds with the degree of adaptive and mitigative capacity available. For example, particular development path scenarios that give rise to very high emissions might also be associated with a slower growth, or even a decline, in the determinants of response capacity. Such might be the case in scenarios with high degrees of military activity or a collapse of international co-operation. In such cases, climate-change impacts could increase, even as response capacity declines.

The linkages between climate policy, response capacities and development paths suggested above help us to understand the nature of the relationship between climate policy and sustainable development. There is a small but growing literature on the nature of this relationship (Cohen et al., 1998; Markandya and Halsnaes, 2000; Munasinghe and Swart, 2000; Schneider et al., 2000; Banuri et al., 2001; Robinson and Herbert, 2001; Smit et al., 2001; Beg et al., 2002; Metz et al., 2002; Najam et al., 2003; Swart et al., 2003; Wilbanks, 2003). Much of this literature emphasises the degree to which climate-change policies can have effects, sometimes called ancillary benefits or co-benefits, that will contribute to the sustainable development goals of the jurisdiction in question (Van Asselt et al., 2005). This amounts to viewing sustainable development through a climate-change lens. It leads to a strong focus on integrating sustainable development goals and consequences into the climate policy framework, and on assessing the scope for such ancillary benefits. For instance, reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions can reduce the incidence of death and illness due to air pollution and benefit ecosystem integrity – both of which are elements of sustainable development (Cifuentes et al., 2001). These co-benefits, furthermore, are often more immediate rather than long term in nature and can be significant. Van Harmelen et al. (2002) find that to comply with agreed upon or future policies to reduce regional air pollution in Europe, mitigation costs are significant, but these are reduced by 50-70% for SO2 and around 50% for NOx when combined with greenhouse-gas policies.

The challenge then becomes one of ensuring that actions taken to address environmental problems do not obstruct regional and local development (Beg et al., 2002). A variety of case studies demonstrates that regional and local development can in fact be enhanced by projects that contribute to adaptation and mitigation. Urban food-growing in two UK cities, for example, has resulted in reduced crime rates, improved biodiversity and reduced transport-based emissions (Howe and Wheeler, 1999). As such, these cities have both enhanced resilience to future climate fluctuations and have made strides towards the mitigation of climate change. Similarly, agro-ecological initiatives in Latin America have helped to preserve the natural resource base while empowering rural communities (Altieri, 1999). The concept of networking and clustering used mainly in entrepreneurial development and increasingly seen as a tool for the transfer of skills, knowledge and technology represents an interesting concept for countries that lack the necessary adaptive and mitigative capacities to combat the negative impacts of climate change.

An alternative approach is based on the findings in the TAR that it will be extremely difficult and expensive to achieve stabilisation targets below 650 ppm from baseline scenarios that embody high-emissions development paths. Low-emissions baseline scenarios, however, may go a long way towards achieving low stabilisation levels even before climate policy is included in the scenario (Morita et al., 2001). This recognition leads to an approach to the links between climate policy and sustainable development – equivalent to viewing climate change through a sustainable development lens – that emphasises the need to study how best to achieve low-emissions development paths (Metz et al., 2002; Robinson et al., 2003; Swart et al., 2003).

It has further been argued that sustainable development might decrease the vulnerability of developing countries to climate-change impacts (IPCC, 2001c), thereby having implications for the necessary amount of both adaptation and mitigation efforts. For instance, economic development and institution building in low-lying, highly-populated coastal regions may help to increase preparedness to sea-level rise and decrease vulnerability to weather variability (McLean et al., 2001). Similarly, investments in public health training programmes, sanitation systems and disease vector control would both enhance general health and decrease vulnerability to the future effects of climate change (McMichael et al., 2001). Framing the debate as a development problem rather than an environmental one helps to address the special vulnerability of developing nations to climate change while acknowledging that the driving forces for emissions are linked to the underlying development path (Metz et al., 2002). Of course it is important also to acknowledge that climate change policy cannot be considered a substitute for sustainable development policy even though it is determined by similar underlying socio-economic choices (Najam et al., 2003).

Both approaches to linking climate change to sustainable development suggest the desirability of integrating climate-policy measures with the goals and attributes of sustainable development (Robinson and Herbert, 2001; Beg et al., 2002; Adger et al., 2003; Van Asselt et al., 2005; Robinson et al., 2006). This suggests an additional reason to focus on the inter-relationships between adaptation, mitigation, response capacity and development paths. If climate policy and sustainable development are to be pursued in an integrated way, then it will become important not simply to evaluate specific policy options that might accomplish both goals, but also to explore the determinants of response capacity that underlie those options and their connections to underlying socio-economic and technological development paths (Swart et al., 2003). Such an integrated approach might be the basis for productive partnerships with the private, public, non-governmental and research sectors (Robinson et al., 2006).

There is general agreement that sustainable development involves a comprehensive and integrated approach to economic, social and environmental processes (Munasinghe, 1992; Banuri et al., 1994; Najam et al., 2003; see also Sathaye et al., 2007). However, early work tended to emphasise the environmental and economic aspects of sustainable development, overlooking the need for analysis of social, political or cultural dimensions (Barnett, 2001; Lehtonen, 2004; Robinson, 2004). More recently, the importance of social, political and cultural factors (e.g., poverty, social equity and governance) has increasingly been recognised (Lehtonen, 2004), especially by the global environmental change policy and climate change communities (Redclift and Benton, 1994; Banuri et al., 1996; Brown, 2003; Tonn, 2003; Ott et al., 2004; Oppenheimer and Petonsk, 2005) to the point that social development, which also includes both political and cultural concerns, is now given equal status as one of the ‘three pillars’ of sustainable development. This is evidenced by the convening of the World Summit on Social Development in 1995 and by the fact that the Millennium Summit in 2000 highlighted poverty as fundamental in bringing balance to the overemphasis on the environmental aspects of sustainability. The environment-poverty nexus is now well recognised, and the link between sustainable development and achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) (United Nations, 2000) has been clearly articulated (Jahan and Umana, 2003). In order to achieve real progress in relation to the MDGs, different countries will settle for different solutions (Dalal-Clayton, 2003), and these development trajectories will have important implications for the mitigation of climate change.

In attempting to follow more sustainable development paths, many developing nations experience unique challenges, such as famine, war, social, health and governance issues (Koonjul, 2004). As a result, past economic gains in some regions have come at the expense of environmental stability (Kulindwa, 2002), highlighting the lack of exploitation of potential synergies between sustainable development and environmental policies. In the water sector, for instance, response capacity can be improved through co-ordinated management of scarce water resources, especially since reduction in water supply in most of the large rivers of the Sahel can affect vital sectors such as energy and agriculture, which are dependent on water availability for hydroelectric power generation and agricultural production, respectively (Ikeme, 2003). Technology, institutions, economics and socio-psychological factors, which are all elements of both response capacity and development paths, affect the ability of nations to build capacity and implement sustainable development, adaptation and mitigation measures (Nederveen et al., 2003).