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

20.1 Introduction – setting the context

Consistent with the Bruntland Commission (WCED, 1987), the Third Assessment Report (TAR) (IPCC, 2001b) defined sustainable development as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. There are many alternative definitions, of course, and none is universally accepted. Nonetheless, they all emphasise one or more of the following critical elements: identifying what to develop, identifying what to sustain, characterising links between entities to be sustained and entities to be developed and envisioning future contexts for these links (NRC, 1999). Goals, indicators, values and practices can also frame examinations of sustainable development (Kates et al., 2005). The essence of sustainable development throughout is meeting fundamental human needs in ways that preserve the life support systems of the planet (Kates et al., 2000). Its strength lies in reconciling real and perceived conflicts between the economy and the environment and between the present and the future (NRC, 1999). Authors have emphasised the economic, ecological and human/social dimensions that are the pillars of sustainable development (Robinson and Herbert, 2001; Munasinghe et al., 2003; Kates et al., 2005). The economic dimension aims at improving human welfare (such as real income). The ecological dimension seeks to protect the integrity and resilience of ecological systems, and the social dimension focuses on enriching human relationships and attaining individual and group aspirations (Munasinghe and Swart, 2000), as well as addressing concerns related to social justice and promotion of greater societal awareness of environmental issues (O’Riordan, 2004).

The concept of sustainable development has permeated mainstream thinking over the past two decades, especially after the 1992 Earth Summit where 178 governments adopted Agenda 21 (UNDSD, 2006). Ten years later, the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD, 2002) made it clear that sustainable development had become a widely-held social and political goal. Even though, as illustrated in Asia by the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES, 2005), implementation remains problematic, there is broad international agreement that development programmes should foster transitions to paths that meet human needs while preserving the Earth’s life-support systems and alleviating hunger and poverty (ICSU, 2002) by integrating these three dimensions (economic, ecological and human/social) of sustainable development. Researchers and practitioners in merging fields, such as ‘sustainability science’ (Kates et al., 2000), multi-scale decision analysis (Adger et al., 2003) and ‘sustainomics’ (Munasinghe et al., 2003), seek to increase our understanding of how societies can do just that.

Climate change adds to the list of stressors that challenge our ability to achieve the ecologic, economic and social objectives that define sustainable development. Chapter 20 builds on the assessments in earlier chapters to note the potential for climate change to affect development paths themselves. Figure 20.1 locates its key topics schematically in the context of the three pillars of sustainable development. Topics shown in the centre of the triangle (the ‘three-legged stool’ of sustainable development) are linked with all three pillars. Other topics, placed outside the triangle, are located closer to one leg or another. The arrows leading from the centre indicate that adaptation to climate change can influence the processes that join the pillars rather than the individual pillars themselves. For example, the technical and economic aspects of renewable resource management could illustrate efforts to support sustainable development by working with the economy-ecology connection – all nested within a decision space of other global development pressures, including poverty.

Figure 20.1

Figure 20.1. Sustainable development and adaptation to climate change. An outline of Chapter 20 is mapped against the pillars of sustainable development. The figure is adapted from Munasinghe and Swart (2005).

Section 20.2 begins with a brief review of the current understanding of impacts and adaptive capacity as described earlier (see Chapter 17). Section 20.3 assesses impacts and adaptation in the context of multiple stresses. Section 20.4 focuses on links to environmental quality and explores the notion of adding climate-change impacts and adaptation to the list of components of environmental impact assessments. Section 20.5 addresses implications for risk, hazards and disaster management, including the challenge of reducing vulnerability to current climate variability and adapting to long-term climate change. Section 20.6 reviews global and regionally-aggregated estimates of economic impacts. Section 20.7 assesses the implications for achieving sustainable development across various time-scales. Section 20.8 considers opportunities, co-benefits and challenges for climate-change adaptation, and for linking (or mainstreaming) adaptation into national and regional development planning processes. Section 20.9 finally identifies research priorities.

This entire chapter should be read with the recognition that the first 19 chapters of this volume assess the regional and global impacts of climate change and the opportunities and challenges for adaptation. Chapters 17 and 19 in this volume offer synthetic overviews of this work that focus specifically on adaptation and key vulnerabilities. Chapter 20 in this volume expands the discussion to explore linkages with sustainable development, as do Chapters 2 and 12 in IPCC (2007a). Sustainable development was addressed in IPCC (2001b), but not in IPCC (2001a).