Somali Region, Ethiopia, 2017: Consecutive climate shocks have resulted in back-to-back droughts.
Photo: © FAO/IFAD/WFP/Michael Tewe

Policy packages to achieve climate goals and SDGs

The most sustainable way to achieve the climate targets along with the Sustainable Development Goals might be a policy combination. CO2 pricing policies in combination with lifestyle changes are most effective, according to scientists from Germany’s PIK.

Policy packages that combine a mix of different policies might be best suited to help achieve both climate stabilisation targets as well as most of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) stated in June 2018.

Smart climate policy packages aim to reduce climate change while taking care of sustainability issues such as food security and access to affordable energy. To find the best options, the researchers analysed 16 policy elements and 12 indicators related to 10 out of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), using computer simulations.

These policy options reach from straightforward CO2 pricing through regulation of water and forest protection to lifestyle changes such as eating less meat, a new study shows. A policy focused only on CO2 pricing would cost least, they show, but would likely trigger substantial land-use changes.

To avoid these land-use changes additional regulation is needed, according to the researchers. They fear that climate-only polices of a rapid phase-out of fossil-fuelled power generation would boost farming plants for generating bioenergy from them. This would mean large-scale transformation of agricultural land otherwise used for food production, or for ecosystems that safeguard biodiversity.

Policy packages are expensive but sustainable

Even the policy package that scores best in most of the analysed sustainability indicators comes with a trade-off: a broad combination of sustainability policies costs more money in the short term than CO2 pricing alone.

The pricing-only policy would keep energy generation costs in check and would in this respect be most cost-effective. Yet such a policy could lead to an increase of food prices by about one third in 15 years through the use of land for climate change mitigation. In the end, this could potentially run counter to the sustainable development goal of zero hunger. To avoid this unintended effect, additional policies would be needed.

The scientists emphasise that a higher cost of a broad combination of sustainability policies, compared with climate-only policy, is not the full picture. The analysis does not spell out climate damage costs that would arise if no policy action at all is taken – yet it is clear that the costs of non-action, both in terms of money and of human suffering, would be tremendous.

Lifestyle changes to complement CO2 pricing

If CO2 pricing were be combined with dedicated policies, the sustainability challenges could be greatly reduced, according to the researchers. They found that such dedicated policies can more than overcompensate the negative side-effects on for instance food and energy prices from strengthening the warming limit from 2 degrees to 1.5 degrees.

While more ambitious climate policy certainly is more expensive and hence consumes money needed for other sustainability goals such as poverty reduction, combining the climate policy with other policies can close the sustainability gap.

Lifestyle changes turn out to be one of the most efficient pathways to complement CO2 pricing. For example, less air travel and meat consumption could offset the higher short-term costs of early climate action.



More information:

Article: Christoph Bertram, Gunnar Luderer, Alexander Popp, Jan Christoph Minx, William F. Lamb, Miodrag Stevanović, Florian Humpenöder, Anastasis Giannousakis, Elmar Kriegler (2018): Targeted policies can compensate most of the increased sustainability risks in 1.5°C mitigation scenarios. Environmental Research Letters [DOI: 10.1088/1748-9326/aac3ec]


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