The societal implications of different climate protection paths

MCC scientists have developed a comprehensive scheme that juxtaposes the risks of various societal goals such as climate protection and food security.

[Translate to EN:] Foto: Fotolia / gexphos


“If we want to make a difference in climate policy, then we have to be able to pinpoint the benefits and risks of climate protection,” says Michael Jakob of the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change (MCC). Together with MCC researcher Jan Steckel, the two scientists are proposing a systematization that would render the goal conflicts of different societal goals transparent. The study entitled “Implications of climate change mitigation for sustainable development” has recently been published in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

According to the article, the main reason why climate policy is slow to materialize is because climate protection is just one of many goals of society. Moreover, these goals are often—and sometimes only seemingly—in conflict with one another. For example, to limit global warming to 2°C or less above pre-industrial levels , biomass will gain in global importance as a source of energy. However, the cultivation of biomass devours vast areas of arable land, which then exerts pressure on food security, forests and water supplies.

The authors concede that climate protection, as a societal goal, need not be categorically subordinated to all other goals. Rather, the risks of different objectives must be weighed against each other. In order for an enlightened and competent social debate to take place, all stakeholders must be aware of the opportunities and risks that are generated under which conditions by the various policies. According to the authors, raising such an awareness is the task of science. In their study, they analyze the consequences of different types of climate protection policies on other societal goals, such as food security and energy security, as well as the associated costs.

In their assessment scheme, which is based on the results of different models, the MCC scientists propose three different climate policies: ambitious (2°C target is reached); less ambitious (temperature rise below 3°C); no climate protection (temperature rise of 4°C and more). They show that in a 2°C scenario, the risks of climate change drop sharply whereas other risks (e.g., carbon capture or nuclear energy) increase  and yet others (e.g., food security) do not change appreciably.

In addition, they analyze how the abandonment of certain technologies affects a larger portfolio of risks. For example, a global phasing-out of nuclear energy would lead to a rise in the risks of carbon capture, whereby politics would have little impact on avoidance costs.

“Although some scenarios involve significant challenges for a number of goals, there is no one scenario that is better or worse in all aspects analyzed,” emphasizes Steckel. “If we do not acknowledge that other societal goals are justified beyond and aside from climate protection, then any climate policy is doomed to fail.”


Read the original paper.