Sustainable development and climate change | By Naghmana A. Hashmi

Naghmana Alamgir Hashmi


SUSTAINABLE development has been defined by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) as: “Forms of progress that meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.” The WBCSD continues: “Given the scale of world poverty today, the challenge of meeting present needs is urgent. But we must look ahead and do our utmost to ensure that what we do today for our ever-growing population does not compromise the environmental, social and human needs of our descendants”.

Climate change and sustainable development both play a role in shaping the human and environmental factors of the world. On the one hand, climate change influences key natural and human living conditions and thereby also the basis for social and economic development, while on the other hand, society’s priorities on sustainable development influence both the carbon emissions that are causing climate change and the vulnerability. Multiple linkages therefore, exist between climate change and sustainable development. Although these are starting to receive attention, the focus has typically been on examining sustainable development through a climate change lens, rather than vice versa. There has been little systematic examination of how these linkages may be fostered in practice. Governments, companies and members of the public can contribute to environmental sustainability.

The link between climate change and sustainable development stems from the fact that climate change is a constraint to development and sustainable development is a key to capacities for mitigation and adaptation. Maintaining environmental quality is essential for sustainable development. There is a dual relationship between sustainable development and climate change.       In 1987, the authors of “Our common future” argued that unless the world embraced and operationalized sustainable development, it would risk being overwhelmed by a series of interlocking crises related to population growth, urbanization, poverty and environmental degradation. Since then, many authors have argued that the world is on a worst case scenario trajectory. Since 1987, climate change has added a new stressor to the mix while shortening the time frame for transformation. In the context of accelerating change and converging stresses is the concept of sustainable development has become more compelling today.

There is an urgent need to reconcile development and climate change. The key to achieving this is to approach the problem from the development perspective, since that is where in most countries the priority lies. What is required therefore, is an integrated approach that recognizes the nexus between sustainable development and climate change particularly in the developing countries.

The focus should be on the main national development priorities, such as poverty reduction, disaster reduction, rural development, energy supply and transportation. Climate change and sustainable development should be addressed together as there are strong linkages between the two. These linkages provide for integrated policy development and the necessity to consider the risk of trade-offs. Integration may not only provide new opportunities, but also may be a prerequisite for successfully addressing both issues. Since the feasibility of stabilizing greenhouse gas concentrations is dependent on general socio-economic development paths, climate policy responses should be fully placed in the larger context of technological and socio-economic policy development rather than be viewed as an add-on to those broader policies.

Climate change should feature prominently within the environmental or economic policy agendas of developing countries as evidence shows that some of the most adverse effects of climate change is in developing countries, where populations are most vulnerable and least likely to easily adapt to climate change and that climate change will affect the potential for development in these countries. This was most dramatically, evident from the devastating floods that inundated one-third of Pakistan in 2022 bringing it to the point of economic collapse.

Some synergies already exist between climate change policies and the sustainable development agenda in developing countries, such as energy efficiency, renewable energy, transport and sustainable land-use policies. Despite limited attention from policy-makers to date, climate change policies could have significant ancillary benefits for the local environment. The reverse is also true as local and national policies to address congestion, air quality, access to energy services and energy diversity may also limit harmful emissions. Nevertheless there could be significant trade-offs associated with deeper levels of mitigation in some countries, for example, where developing countries are dependent on indigenous coal and may be required to switch to cleaner yet more expensive fuels to limit emissions.

The distributional impacts of such policies are an important determinant of their feasibility and need to be considered up-front. International community will need to recognize the diverse situations of developing countries with respect to their level of economic development, their vulnerability to climate change and their ability to adapt or mitigate. Recognition of how climate change is likely to influence other development priorities may be a first step toward building cost-effective strategies and integrated, institutional capacity in developing countries to respond to climate change.

Although climate change seems marginal compared to the pressing issues of poverty alleviation and economic development, it is becoming clear that the realization of development goals may be hampered by climate change. However, development can be shaped in such a way as to achieve its goals and at the same time reduce vulnerability to climate change, thereby facilitating sustainable development that realizes economic, social, local and global environmental goals. Climate change discussions should focus on development strategies with ancillary climate benefits and increase the capability of developing countries to implement these.

Climate policies can be more effective when consistently embedded within broader strategies designed to make national and regional development paths more sustainable. This occurs because the impact of climate variability and change, climate policy responses and associated socio-economic development will affect the ability of countries to achieve sustainable development goals. Conversely, the pursuit of those goals will in turn affect the opportunities for and success of, climate policies.

Recognizing the dual relationship between Sustainable Development and climate change points to a need for the exploration of policies that jointly address Sustainable Development and climate change. There is a need for the policymakers and development partners to adopt an effective approach to growth and development, one that eschews the damaging ways of the past, considers interlinkages among people, the planet and the global economy in policy making and seizes the opportunities new technological possibilities offer to promote strong, resilient, inclusive and sustainable growth.

Governments promote green technological innovation and diffusion, with support from the development partner community and provide a clear sense of direction and policy certainty to encourage firms to redirect innovation toward green technologies. While policy approaches to support climate policies and the energy transition may differ across countries, it is important to avoid policies, which result in lower trade in green goods and services, lower technological transfers and an inefficient allocation of resources. Development partners could also explore multicounty mechanisms to support technological breakthroughs in clean technologies for their diffusion to emerging markets and developing economies.