Strategies to mitigate climate change in a sustainable development framework

Ogunlade R. Davidson

Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of Sierra Leone

Freetown, Sierra Leone

West Africa


Strategies that mitigate climate change resulting from increasing concentration of greenhouse gas emissions while promoting sustainable and equitable development are needed to be taken rapidly and immediately by countries world-wide. Choice of strategies that are sensitive to regional and national needs is a major challenge because of diversities in responsibility and obligations and developmental needs in the world. However, large number of tools and techniques available which can assist countries and regions to determine such strategies. They will need to be continuously adapted so as to overcome the numerous barriers and threats that remain in implementing actions to mitigate for climate change. To ensure sustainable development for the vast majority in the world, local management of resources is crucial.

1 Introduction

The consensus among scientists world-wide that global climate instability may occur if the current rate of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is not reduced is strong enough for taken national and international actions. This view has been confirmed by United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC,1992), and they have called for rapid and immediate actions. Continued GHG emissions on its current accumulated stock so increasing the concentration will result in warming of the earth leading to unprecedented rise in global temperatures. Despite the extent of this warming, its local, regional and global impacts are uncertain, the rapid actions called for by IPCC must be adhered to. These uncertainties which are mainly due to limited knowledge of the earth's absorptive capacity for GHG and the extent of possible feedbacks to the atmosphere are not enough to support in-action. Likely impacts of global warming such as sea level rise, changes in storm activity, in vegetation distribution and in agronomic conditions can be dangerous to human existence and trans-boundary in nature. The lifetime of GHG is very long, 50-200 years, hence this problem can persist for very long periods. All the more reason for actions to stabilize GHG emissions.

Identification and selection of actions to mitigate GHG emissions will be a great challenge because these emissions are strongly tied to human activities that support life systems. However, these activities cover a wide range, from ones crucial to human well-being to those leading to affluence and over-consumption. This broad activity range provides opportunity to search for possible replacement of high emission intensive activities with less emission intensive ones and even provide room for innovation.

Undertaking the necessary analysis and making optimal choices of actions will require carefully thought out strategies from countries and regions world-wide. These strategies will need to be technically feasible and cost-effective, while they promote sustained and equitable development and be sensitive to the different regional and national needs.

Developing national actions to solve the climate problem will be difficult because the likely impact of the problem is global and no one country or group of countries can provide its remedy. The cooperation of countries and coordination of national efforts will be central in any solution to the problem. It is therefore necessary that countries world-wide cooperate through regional and international mechanisms such as the Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC) which recently came into force to tackle the global climate problem.

In formulating national actions to mitigate the global climate problem which is the interest of this paper, strategies envisaged should be flexible enough to capture the various diversities of national needs. In addition, the different responsibilities of GHG emissions and their attendant obligations to its remedy should be important considerations. For example, industrialized countries, has only 25% of the world's population but are responsible for most of the current and past global GHG emissions, 75% of carbon dioxide emissions (carbon dioxide forms over half of man-made GHG). Further, carbon dioxide emissions per capita in those countries are very high, about 5 times the world average in North America and over twice in Western Europe. Figure 1 illustrates the disparity among the contribution of CO2 emissions by the different regions of the world. On the other hand, development demands in developing countries is contributing to the fast growth of CO2 emissions in comparison to industrialized countries as shown in Figure 2.

Figure 1.CO2 emissions for world regions, from energy and industrial sectors.

Figure 2.Growth trends of CO2 emissions. World Regions, 1950-1990.

Limiting CO2 emissions is central in reducing GHG emissions in the atmosphere because its forms about half of the total GHG emissions. CO2 is emitted to the atmosphere by three main sources, energy production and use, industrial activities and land use changes, but energy production and use contributes over 70% of the total.

Therefore limiting CO2 emissions in the energy sector will have the greatest impact on total global GHG emissions, and the paper intends to emphasize this point.

2 Energy and global climate change

Providing adequate, reliable and affordable energy in any country is crucial to its overall development because energy is the engine of economic growth and improved lifestyles. A fact that has been well demonstrated in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, and in the newly industrialized nations. However, the extraction, processing, supply and use of energy can cause serious environmental and health problems. Therefore, providing affordable and adequate energy for the vast majority of the world's population that needs improved quality of life, is a major challenge for concerned authorities.

The world is not lack of energy resources in comparison with the current rate of energy use. The stock of fossil resources up to 1987 can last for 40-60 years at current rate of production as illustrated in Table 1 (WRI,1993). In a more recent estimate of 1990, the resources of oil and gas could last up to 100 years and coal for another 1500 years. In addition, the potentials for using renewable energy sources is quite abundant even without hydropower and biomass that may be argued are not GHG neutral. Further, most of the regions of the world are almost self sufficient in commercial energy sources at present with the exception of Europe as shown in Table 2. However, accessing these energy resources will continue to be difficult for many because of rising cost apart from disparities in the distribution of energy resources among the regions and countries of the world.

Table 1.World proven energy reserves and production.

Region                            Reserves/Prod                                
                                  uction (R/P)                                 

                                       Oil       Natural Gas        Coal       

World                                        40             60             390 
Developing Countries                         62            155             658 
Industrialized Countries                     12             39             238 

Data Source: WEC, UN

Table 2.Production and consumption of energy by world's regions. Commercial Energy Sources, 1990.

Region                                Production/Consumption Ratio (P/C)     

Africa                                               2.58                    
N. America                                           0.93                    
S. America                                           1.52                    
Asia                                                 1.21                    
Europe                                               0.62                    
Oceania                                              1.53                    
Former USSR                                          1.22                    
World                                                1.06                    

Source: UNSTAT, 1992

The rise in cost is not only financial but to a large extent environmental. The impact of increased cost will have varying effects on different regions of the world depending on their circumstances. In general, OECD countries and some energy resource-rich countries will be able to cope with increased financial cost but will find major difficulties with the rising environmental cost, especially the ones with global implications. The poor developing countries will be unable to bear the burden of rising financial cost due to their economic conditions, and to increased environmental cost. In addition, their environmental cost will have significant local effects. Hence, coping with global climate change while satisfying increasing in an era of increasing energy cost will present problems for countries world-wide.

Current trends show that energy demand will continue to increase for most countries of the world in the future. The driving forces for rising demand in developing countries is the need to overcome poverty and cope with high population growth rates, while in newly industrialized countries it is the tendency to replicate past energy use patterns of industrialized countries. Maintaining current over-consumptive lifestyles in OECD countries can also increase their energy levels. Satisfying this growing trend will prove difficult using the present fossil fuel dependent paradigm. There is need to depart from this paradigm and use low carbon emitting energy sources along with other measures.

It is difficult to depart from this well-tested paradigm because as illustrated in Figure 3, there is a positive correlation between energy use and prosperity in industrialized countries and CO2 emissions. However, the figure also shows differences among the developed countries. Some countries in western Europe achieved relatively high quality of life for their citizens but with about half the carbon emissions emitted in countries of North America. This provides very good lessons for developing countries that are searching for low-carbon intensive energy paths to improve the quality of life of their citizens.

Figure 3.CO2 emissions against energy use. Selected countries, 1990.

Limitations in domestic economies, poor access to external investment funds, and likely impacts on the overall environment are factors that will drive the search for new energy paths. In addition, the stock of cheap fossil sources are reducing as they become less accessible so expensive. Current use patterns of biomass as an energy source cannot continue as demand surpasses present stock in most countries where it is needed. Also, the capacity of world's ecosystem to cope with environmental stress from energy activities is diminishing. Investment funds for large energy plants are declining especially in countries that need significant energy expansion. These changing circumstances will determine the energy choices countries will take in the future.

3 Sustainable and equitable development framework

Sustainable development is widely used and has varying definitions to different people, but this paper will not duel on the merits and demerits of them. However, this paper defines it as the strategy of managing all natural, human, financial and physical assets to achieve long-term wealth and well-being (Repetto, 1986). This definition implies control over the mobilization and utilization of resources to ensure that benefits accrued are used to maintain and improve the asset base. For this to be effective, local control must be central. Hence, countries and regions world-wide must be prepared to take control over the depletion of their resources and distribution of benefits accrued to ensure sustainable development.

Past growth patterns adopted world-wide were highly depended on excessive use of natural resources with very little consideration for its replenishment. These patterns have created serious environmental problems such as land degradation, soil depletion, water and air pollution, ozone depletion and now threats of climate change. Combating these problems is difficult because most of the benefits accrued were not used to neither maintained or improved the asset base. More sustainable growth patterns are required for future development world-wide.

Over half of the world's population live in countries that are struggling to develop adequate mechanisms for income and employment generation. As a result, practices in those countries are suffering from increased environmental stress as they increase their dependency on natural systems. Changing situation in these countries presents a major challenge because some of the past development strategies cannot be repeated. They will only continue to widen the gap between rich and poor and worsen environmental problems. Current practices have led to major differences in the world regions and equity problems. As a result, industrialized countries enjoy economic affluence but have weaknesses such as over-consumptive habits, excessive waste production and emissions of adverse gases. Economic prosperity is growing in rapidly developing countries, but so are the emissions of adverse gases. Relatively few have benefitted in poor developing countries, the majority continue to suffer from poverty and human misery along with degraded local environment. New equitable development paths are required.

4 Development-energy use and carbon emissions

Historical evidence suggest that as countries develop leading to improved lifestyles and increased energy consumption, their carbon emissions also increases as shown in a generalized form in Figure 4 (Ausubel et al., 1990). In general, three categories of countries have emerged in the world: (a) developing countries that uses energy for survival, have substantial development needs and also emit low carbon; (b) newly industrializing countries uses energy for development and industrialization, but with increasing carbon emissions, and (c) industrialized countries that uses energy to sustain present lifestyles and maintain their level of development, and emits most of the world's carbon.

Figure 4.Generic relationship for carbon emissions/economy.

In addition, the challenges for sustainable development and priorities in these countries are different. For countries that fall under (a), providing basic needs for many, stimulating overall net productivity while maintaining the natural resource base are their major challenges. Investments in social services, increased employment opportunities, institutional reform, and promotion wider local participation are very high on their priority list. Possible options for sustainable development include labor-intensive techniques, low cost energy and technological growth patterns based on suitable mix of improved local skills and adapted foreign versions, improved agricultural techniques, re-allocation of resources and better mechanisms for policy formulation.

Countries falling under (b) are growing very fast using similar growth patterns as those used by developed countries. Reduction of income disparities, coping with rapid urbanization problems such as poor air quality while conserving their natural resource base are among the main challenges facing them. However, their investments on social services and institution building has been significant. Conservation of their resource base is still a priority because they still depend on them for supporting their economies and employment generation. Wider use of energy efficient technologies, proper choice of industries are among their options for sustainable development.

Developed countries that fall in (c) have great concentration of the world's wealth but are great consumers of natural resources from developing countries and contribute most of global emissions. Reducing carbon emissions, controlling air and water pollution and waste disposal while maintaining current lifestyles are among their greatest challenges. The search for cleaner technologies, reduction of natural resource use, and wider use of energy efficient technologies are among the development options for these countries. However, these countries do have very strong institutions, the technologies and established diffusion mechanisms which can assist countries in the other categories in their development process.

These different circumstances has led to different emissions of carbon to the atmosphere and have produced varying impacts on their economies. Depending on the energy source mix in the country, the efficiency of systems employed and the type of industrial activities, the CO2 emissions have different impact on the economy. This can be shown in Figure 5 that illustrates the CO2 emissions per unit GDP for selected countries. Countries such as China, Romania and South Africa which uses a lot of coal and relatively low industrial activity have CO2/GDP 5 times or more greater OECD countries. This feature provides great potential for emissions reduction if better energy resource mix and improved efficient devices are employed.

Figure 5.CO2 emissions per unit GDP for selected countries in 1990.

5 Mitigation analysis for national action

As mentioned previously, the threat of climate instability will have impacts and no single country can solve it. However, its solution lies on the coordination of national actions within regional and international frameworks. The solution will need to involve countries world-wide because the impact of GHG emitted in one location may be felt in a completely different location. Hence, countries should develop a plan of action to cope with this problem. Such plan should be long-term in nature, be capable to respond to uncertainties and un-planned events, and can be adjusted to suit new information as they become known.

Despite the plan will be primarily based on national actions, but international concerns will be important because as trade between countries get more intensified, actions by one country will affect the other. Further, actions to reduce GHG emissions will have serious economic implications due to its link with human activities, so involve restructuring of economic sectors. In addition, the growing inter-relationships among countries especially in world trade means that certain national actions will have economic and financial impacts globally. Such price change of certain commodities may affect the competitive position of a country in global markets. Therefore, developing a national plan require detailed analysis and thought.

In undertaking such analysis, every country should set national goals and commitments towards the solution of this global problem. With the coming into force of the FCCC, this will be mandatory of certain parties. These goals and commitments will need to be continuously revised to cope with changing events such as changes in international markets, technological developments, improved R&D results and international agreements. They should clearly state the expectations of the country's GHG emissions within specified time period, some countries will limit GHG emissions, while others increase to cope with development demands. Also, an outline the country's energy strategy is necessary as this sector emits most GHG. Though the goal will concentrate on CO2, but actions to reduce the other gases should be highlighted.

In developing goals and commitments, the country must produce an inventory of GHG emissions. This is a requirement of FCCC. The revised OECD methodology is still the most credible tool for producing national inventories and it gives GHG emissions from the main sources energy, forestry, and agricultural sectors. The inventory will assist to identify mitigation options assessment to develop national actions. The screening and selection of mitigation options require a proper understanding of these options. Their economic impacts, social impacts, health related impacts, identification of beneficiaries and losers, etc. As a first step, it is important that countries GHG emissions scenarios.

Such GHG emissions scenarios should be capable of describing possible future emissions across sectors and activities and type of gas emissions. However, certain basic demographic, economic, developmental, agricultural, forestry and other technical assumptions will be needed. Several methods exist to develop scenarios for the energy and land-use sectors after the identification of a baseline scenario. Identifying a baseline can prove difficult and is country specific. Among methods for scenario development in the energy sector are end-use models that rely on judgement and knowledge of the user such as STAIR and LEAP. Other end-use model that depend on accounting for cost of supplying services such as MARKAL, and ET. CO-PATH is one of the few models that can account for GHG emissions from land use changes in the forestry sector. These scenarios will help the decision on the choice of options for mitigation.

6 Mitigation options

Most mitigation options can be described broadly into two categories technical and policy. These options have varying costs, economic impacts, and implementation requirements. These options are many but they generally fall into the short and long-term options. Most of the options so far suggested are varying degrees of the ones identified by IPCC. The IPCC ones are the following, On the Short-term:

On the long term:

The short-term options will interest most countries because they also have development implications and can assist countries to achieve stabilization of GHG emissions without major sacrifices. In adapting these options, countries have adopted the following measures: In the energy sector;

In the land use sector;

The choice of options will depend on several economic, political and social parameters depending on the conditions within the country. Detailed analysis may be needed before options are selected. There are few principles that should be considered in selecting options. These are:

The benefits from mitigation options in addition to GHG reduction should include stimulation of investments, promotion of trade, creation of wealth, and increase employment.

Options need to be implemented within a framework of policies and policy instruments.

7 Policy and policy instruments

Several policies and policy instruments are necessary in attempting to tackle the climate problem. They be grouped as economic, administrative, planning, and information. There are major differences between them and they address varying audiences. Generally, some criteria in selecting these policies and policy instruments are:

8 Economic policies and instruments

Economic instruments are mostly market-oriented instruments and can be classified as taxes, tradable permits and subsidies.

The main aim of introducing environmental related taxes that is to influence the behavior of business and individuals to be more environmentally conscious through economic motivation. These measures such as carbon tax can be effective in reducing emissions and produce health benefits but have several drawbacks. Distribution of proceeds is a major area of consideration because they have high potential for raising revenue. Reducing corporate tax so as to make it revenue neutral, re-investing in technological development, promotion of renewables and energy efficiency, are different approaches towards solving these problems. Competition between energy taxed goods and alternatives, impact on country's market advantages, tariff structures are other concerns. At present, these taxes are likely to be more effective in national perspective than international. Problems of compliance, administration and re-distribution are major barriers to its success internationally.

Tradable permits and Joint implementation are economic instruments but they are not widely used except in the United States of America. This arrangement involves buying over credits between a polluter and a non-polluter through agreements of the two parties. There are major problems of impact on overall GHG reduction, contents of agreement, impacts of power relationships and other dis-equilibrium factors on certification, verification, monitoring and enforcement.

Financial incentives and subsidies can be used to promote the development and use of cleaner and less-GHG intensive sources. These incentives will provide insurance against environmental damages. Providing support for renewable energy sources has been a very popular choice of this approach.

9 Administrative policies and instruments

Government initiatives and interventions can be useful in mitigation strategies. These can be in the form of regulations and standards, administrative guidance on projects and programs. Several of these measures have been tried successfully in different parts of the world, mostly in developed countries. There are several drawbacks in practicing these policies and policy instruments. Compliance can prove to be a major barrier in most countries. Regular dialogue between different stakeholders and establishing mutual recognition and respect increases compliance. The administrative costs to execute some of these measures can be very high for poor countries and so render them ineffective. Poor capacity for enforcement in most countries reduces the importance of these measures.

10 National planning policies and instruments

Land use planning measures can promote or reduce the demand for energy and transportation services which are major sectors that emit GHG. Urban planning decisions have significant impact on transport requirements and so is the design and location of physical structures. This will affect other services such as power supply and consumption. Government guidance will be necessary to help promote planning policies that are less environmentally damaging. Problems of compliance and enforcement will be barriers to this approach.

11 Information policies and instruments

Setting organized information organs, increase public awareness, advisory services and very good education and training programs can form very good policies and instruments to reduce GHG emissions. explaining the significance of the exercise is very important because attitudes need to be changed to achieve the reduction targets that most countries will set themselves. This information will primarily involve the diffusion of about developments, impacts and measures to be taken to improve situation. This will need to involve several organizations at different levels. Administrative costs and the channel of communication utilized will prove to be barriers.

12 Challenges and threats

There are several challenges and threats to solving the climate problem by countries world-wide. They can be classified as economic, institutional, psychological, and informational.

The present world economic system including its price structure present a serious threat. Growing market failures and price distortions continue to produce dis-equitable results which will weaken international agreements and compliance. Unfair trading systems such as the recently concluded GATT only worsen the problem. Initiatives must be introduced to improve on pricing systems and overcome the serious market failures that still persist.

Significantly large number of countries in the world lack adequate institutions to cope with climate change analysis and this will present serious problems in developing national plans and actions. The need for institutions and appropriate organizational arrangements is crucial to mitigation analysis in any country.

The attitudes of several countries towards accepting responsibility will weaken international agreements and hence affect national decisions. Develop countries must accept the concept of "natural debt", the accumulation of historical GHG in the atmosphere and therefore should be central in solving the problem. Developing countries must be prepared to adopt low-GHG emission strategy to contribute towards the solution of the climate problem.

Data limitations and poor access to information are major threats to the solution of the climate problem. This more true for analysis and technological development. If this area is not improved, significant large number of countries will find it hard to be involved in solving the climate problem.

13 Conclusions

The threat of global climate problem is growing and due to the nature of the problem, national actions through regional and international mechanisms are required. However, these actions must be carried within a sustainable and equitable development framework. The paper discussed several options and policies but implementing them require detailed analysis to ensure that national benefits are maximized. The importance of local control and management within a politically committed environment cannot be over-emphasized in ensuring sustainable development.


Ausubel J., Arrhenius E., Benedick R.E., Davidson O. et al. (1990). "Group Report: Social and Institutional Barriers to Reducing CO2 Emissions" chap 19 in "Limiting Greenhouse Effects" Ed. G.I. Pearman. Dahlem Reports No. 10, John Wiley.

IPCC (1992). "Climate Change: The response Strategies". WMO/UNEP.

Norwegian Interministerial Climate Group (1992). "The Greenhouse Effect, Impacts and Response Strategies". Ministry of Environment Report.

UNEP (1994). "Environment Data Report: 1993-94" United Nations Environment Programme, Nairobi, Kenya. Blackwell Publishers, London England.

WRI (1993). "World Resources 1992-93: toward Sustainable Development" World Resources Institute/UNEP/UNDP.

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