Identifying and learning from sustainable development pathways

  • William Lamb

    Student thesis: Phd


    With the Paris Agreement calling for climate change to be held "well below" 2oC, and the release of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, the international community has reaffirmed its commitment to enabling human progress within the constraints of the biosphere. In major assessments, a common approach is to examine climate and development trade-offs under a framework of economic costs, rather than human well-being, despite the latter being a potentially more accurate way to portray real development outcomes. This thesis elaborates on these links between well-being, carbon emissions and climate change mitigation; it identifies the implications of this new framework, and examines whether it is possible to achieve both low-emissions and high well-being within the limitations of society, economy and the climate. A fundamental issue is whether minimum thresholds of energy consumption necessary for satisfying human needs can be extended to all without exceeding the 2oC goal and further endangering well-being. This is found to be a key trade-off that requires either a deep commitment to emissions reductions in Northern countries, or the avoidance of carbon-intensive infrastructures in the South. Nonetheless, there are already examples of countries that have attained high levels of well-being in multiple dimensions of human need at little cumulative emissions cost, and according to current growth trends will continue to do so with a minimal impact on the shared carbon space. These nations are also diverse in terms of their underlying drivers of carbon emissions (and thus challenges in mitigation), and may provide a rich source of climate-development policy for emerging countries in the global South. However, it is understood that systematic political-economic constraints are preventing a convergence of well-being outcomes and emissions impact across the development hierarchy, highlighting the social and political (rather than technical) issues that must be addressed in order to safely transition society towards a low-carbon future.
    Date of Award1 Aug 2016
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • The University of Manchester
    SupervisorAlice Larkin (Supervisor) & Ruth Wood (Supervisor)


    • Climate change mitigation
    • Development pathways
    • Human well-being

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