Handbook of Sustainable Development
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Handbook of Sustainable Development

Second Edition

Edited by Giles Atkinson, Simon Dietz, Eric Neumayer and Matthew Agarwala

This timely and important Handbook takes stock of progress made in our understanding of what sustainable development actually is and how it can be measured and achieved.
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Chapter 30: Linking climate change mitigation research to sustainable development

Ottmar Edenhofer, Susanne Kadner, Christoph von Stechow, Gregor Schwerhoff and Gunnar Luderer


Sustainable development (SD) is a normative concept of intergenerational justice according to which the capability of future generations to attain their well-being should be sustained (WCED, 1987). As a consequence, concerns about the adaptation to and the mitigation of climate change are deeply embedded in the conceptual framework of SD and were politically and formally linked at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 1992, concluding that greenhouse gases (GHG) should be stabilized at a level that would avoid dangerous climate change. So far, attempts to decouple economic growth from rising GHG emissions at a global scale have proven unsuccessful, with world-wide emissions continuing to rise at rapid pace (Peters et al., 2013). It becomes increasingly clear that, over the long term, the limiting factor of global energy supply is not the scarcity of fossil fuels, but rather the limited disposal space of the atmosphere implied by climate stabilization targets. It is meanwhile well established that there is a direct link between cumulative carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and long-term global warming. As a consequence, only a limited emissions budget remains available if temperature change is to be kept below a certain threshold level (IPCC, 2013). The UNFCCC formulates the normative objective of ‘avoiding dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system’ (UNFCCC, 1992), which was later translated into the long-term goal of limiting global warming to 2°C relative to pre-industrial levels (UNFCCC, 2010).

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