Sustainable Development and Climate Change
Because the climate change crisis can only be resolved in conjunction with other crucial sustainable development concerns, this chapter delves deeply into the concept of sustainable development and its broader implications. Upon defining sustainable development, this chapter outlines a number of key concepts relevant to the climate change crisis. Beginning with a concrete representation of the economic process, it is shown that the desirable or optimal scale of the economy is considerably smaller than the economy’s maximum sustainable scale. For two reasons, this revelation has important consequences for how humankind should deal with the climate change crisis. Firstly, governments must not only ensure that national economies operate within their ecological limits (of which a 450 ppm stabilisation target is one of them), they must take the necessary action to ensure their economies grow no larger than their optimal scale. Upon reaching the optimal scale, increases in economic welfare are still possible, but are dependent upon the production of better goods, not more goods; improvements in the distribution of income and wealth; natural capital maintenance; and increases in the efficiency of natural resource use. Secondly, empirical evidence suggests that the economies of nearly all high-GDP countries have exceeded their optimal scale. Furthermore, many have exceeded their maximum sustainable scale, as has the global economy as a whole. Disconcertingly, a number of low-GDP countries also appear to be suffering from ‘uneconomic growth’. This indicates that the climate change crisis needs to be tackled on the understanding that high-GDP nations must immediately begin the transition to a qualitatively-improving steady-state economy and that any growth undertaken in the meantime by needy low-GDP nations must be as equitable and efficient as possible. Whilst a lower rate of global growth will make it easier to meet greenhouse gas emissions targets, it poses institutional and policy issues rarely considered in the climate change literature.