Energy Policy Implications

Ivan Scrase, Florian Kern, Markku Lehtonen, Gordon MacKerron, Mari Martiskainen, Francis McGowan, David Ockwell, Raphael Sauter, Adrian Smith, Steve Sorrell, Tao Wang and Jim Watson

Over 20 years ago UN Commission on Environment and Development called on governments around the world to make sustainable development their first priority. The 'Brundtland Report' provided a definition still regularly quoted in policy documents committing governments to the aim. Sustainable development is:

[D]evelopment that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It contains within it two concepts:

• the concept of 'needs', in particular the essential needs of the world's poor, to which overriding priority should be given; and

• the idea of limitations imposed by the state of technology and social organisation on the environment's ability to meet present and future needs.

The opening sentence above has become very familiar, but the two clarifying points that follow are rarely included. Sustainable development is now interpreted in diverse ways in various national and international contexts, often such that the detail presents little challenge to the status quo. For example, in the UK it has been interpreted as a domestic 'quality of life' agenda, or as a matter of 'balancing' economic, social and environmental protection goals in policymaking.

Consideration for the 'essential needs of the world's poor' reinforces the duty to minimise wealthy countries' contributions to climate change, and to engage internationally for global solutions. Giving their needs 'over-riding priority' suggests a much greater and wide-ranging reorientation than we have seen to date in any industrialised country. The second point in the above definition concerns environmental limits, which are recognised to depend on 'the state of technology and social organisation'.

In this chapter some further guiding principles and suggestions for new and sustainable approaches in government are set out. Some of the proposals are identified as more urgently needed than others. However, the aim here is not to advance a step-by-step programme. Rather all of the four priority areas identified here need to be addressed simultaneously, guided in detail by an invigorated democratic process. The proposals point to radical changes to energy policy landscapes that would necessarily involve wider changes in societies and across governments. This will be an immense political challenge, but scientific evidence regarding the climatic consequences of failing to rise to it are too terrifying and irresponsible to consider.

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