Tackling global warming while realising sustainable development is a key challenge for policymakers worldwide who are working towards the objectives of both the United Nations Paris Agreement and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Building policies in these areas must take a wide range of issues into account, including reducing energy poverty, improving air quality, boosting well-being, conserving biodiversity, and assuring food and water security.
However, research into the complex interplay between climate and development policies is relatively thin on the ground. The EU-funded project CD-LINKS has taken steps towards filling the research gap by bringing together expert groups from the EU and major economies outside of Europe, including Brazil, China, India, Japan, Russia and the USA.
‘Well-designed climate change mitigation policies can lead to significant co-benefits for a range of development priorities, including enhanced energy security and safety and reduced indoor air pollution, but they can also lead to trade-offs if not managed properly. We have advanced the research agenda in these areas by creating a multi-disciplinary, international research team,’ says Dr Volker Krey, Deputy Programme Director for Energy at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, Austria.
International collaboration across disciplines
CD-LINKS worked with experts on integrated assessment modelling, sustainable development, climate change mitigation and adaptation, economics, energy systems, human health, land use, agriculture and water. The group set out to enable dialogue between the various national experts to develop globally consistent, national low-carbon development pathways.
‘Our research has clearly identified the importance of seeing climate policy as one piece of a puzzle that needs to fit with a range of other pieces on the radar of researchers and policymakers,’ Krey explains.
Research undertaken during the project was used in the development of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 °C as well as in the United Nations Environment Programme’s emissions gap report.
The project also attracted the interest of financial institutions, including central and commercial banks, looking to assess the risks related to the transition from a fossil-fuel-based economy to a low-carbon society for their investment portfolios. Furthermore, it provided climate-change-scenario data to the UN Environment Programme Finance Initiative for its work with banks and financial analysts.
Investing in low-carbon energy
CD-LINKS developed an ‘energy investment tool’ designed to track the progress on the investments needed to meet the objectives of both the Paris Agreement and the SDGs. According to the tool, substantial low-carbon energy investment gaps amount to around one-quarter of total global energy investments. In some major economies, including China and India, up to half of their energy investments will need to shift to low-carbon to meet climate and development objectives. ‘A transformation of the global energy system does not necessarily require an increase in total investments. While the magnitude may not change, the composition of those investments definitely will,’ the tool indicates.
As well as looking to the future, the project also analysed past and existing policies on climate and development topics. Focusing on case studies on energy, water, food security, agriculture, and research and development, CD-LINKS carried out reviews of national action plans and policy pledges in a bid to understand short- and medium-term policy trends.
This work enabled the team to conclude that multiple climate and development objectives should be considered when designing new policies. It also concluded that policies should be continuously monitored and updated according to changing circumstances.
‘These activities allowed the project to assess the potential for reusing successful policy tools, providing important guidance for designing future policies designed to boost sustainable development and tackle climate change,’ says Krey.
Although the project has finished, research generated by CD-LINKS is still being published in journals, including Nature Communications. The project is also maintaining an online tool, called the CD-LINKS Scenario Explorer, designed to make the national and global low-carbon development pathways it developed more accessible to researchers and policy analysts.
Finally, it is continuing its work through a new EU-funded project called ENGAGE, which has brought new countries onboard, including Indonesia, Mexico, Thailand, Turkey and Vietnam.