Note: This is the 1997 edition of UNEP's Global Environment Outlook. If you are interested in more recent information, please see the 2000 and 2002 editions.

United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
Global  Environment Outlook-1 - The Web version

Chapter 4: Looking to the Future

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Alternative Policies

The modelling results presented so far in this chapter cover only one set of assumptions about possible future developments, namely that current policies and trends will more or less continue to dominate or shape the future world. What if very different policies were applied, or if consumer attitudes were to change drastically? This would probably result in very different development paths in the future. Models are excellent tools to explore the answers to such questions. As an illustration, the possible impacts of energy and food policy measures aimed at a more efficient use of resources were explored through a semi-quantitative modelling exercise for the globe as a whole. A baseline and two sets of policy strategies were considered:

  • current trends, policies, strategies, and attitudes will continue: a business-as-usual baseline situation (Baseline) that resembles the one applied in the earlier sections of this chapter (Alcamo et al., 1996b);
  • the best available technology (BAT) is used all over the world both in energy and agriculture: this represents drastic technological changes, especially in developing regions (Variant 1); and
  • in addition to the use of BAT, the use of renewable energy sources (especially biofuels) is increased, and a fundamental change is made in human diet (such as lower meat consumption): this represents drastic changes in consumer attitudes (Variant 2).

The results of policy Variants 1 and 2 were compared with the Baseline situation, in particular by exploring the possible effects on resource use (such as energy consumption and agricultural land use) and on environmental degradation (such as carbon dioxide emissions, temperature changes, and change in forest area). For all three exercises, the same medium population growth and medium economic growth are assumed, and the implementation of the policy strategies is assumed to be extremely fast. Any barriers to their implementation have not been taken into account; in reality, therefore, such extremely fast changes would not be really feasible.

For the technological change strategy (Variant 1), it was assumed that within a short transition period of 20 years, developing regions will reach the level of efficiency of industrial regions, both for energy and for agriculture. Within the energy sector, for instance, it is assumed that all new industries and power stations all over the world will be as efficient as the best available technology. And, for the agricultural sector, it is assumed that animal husbandry and management practices in developing regions converge to the higher productivity level of the industrial world.

For the fundamental change strategy, Variant 2, it was assumed that in addition to the technological changes assumed in Variant 1, the market share in 2050 of renewables and biofuels within the energy sector will be higher than in the Baseline situation and the best available technology strategy (55 per cent for Variant 2 and 20 per cent for the Baseline and Variant 1) and that the consumption of meat is much lower compared to the Baseline situation (50 per cent less meat consumed, again realized within a very short 20-year period).

The results of this modelling exercise are shown in Figure 4.26. The strong increase in energy consumption observed in the Baseline situation and also reported on in the preceding sections of this chapter will be drastically reduced.

Carbon dioxide emissions from energy and industry show an even stronger reduction: in 2050 the carbon dioxide emissions of the best available technology variant are about 35 per cent of the Baseline situation; for the fundamental change variant, they are about 20 per cent of the Baseline situation. These results are in line with the potential for emission reductions in scenarios of, for instance, the World Energy Council and Shell, as summarized in a recent UNEP/STAP/GEF report on Renewable Energy Technologies (UNEP/STAP/GEF, 1996).

The effect of the different policies on temperature change is based on the combined effects of changes in energy use and projected changes in land use. Taking these assumptions into account, the temperature increase in 2050 would be about one third as large for Variant 2 as for the Baseline situation, and about half as large for the BAT exercise (Variant 1).

The number of cattle is projected to decrease strongly because of the introduction of agro-technological improvements raising animal productivity: by 2050 the number of cattle would be about half of the number in 1990, and some 25-30 per cent of the number projected in the Baseline exercise in 2050. For the fundamental change exercise, the 2050 number becomes about one third of the current 1990 number and about 20 per cent of the Baseline numbers.

By 2050, the Baseline exercise projects a 25-percent increase in land used for agriculture compared with 1990 figures; with the BAT exercise, the increase turns into a decrease of about 20 per cent compared with 1990, while for the third exercise, the decrease would become 25 per cent.

Figure 4.26. shows that the policy measures ensuring best available technology would result in an increase in forest area of about 20 per cent instead of the 25-per-cent decrease projected under the Baseline situation; under the fundamental change exercise, the increase in forest area would be 25 per cent.

The results of the analysis indicate that technology transfer and fundamental changes in attitude can lead to significant changes in future energy consumption, land use, and carbon dioxide emissions, and subsequently in positive changes in land cover and temperature change in the future. The influence of the fundamental change policies on these projected changes is clearest for carbon dioxide emissions. Although this analysis is only a first attempt to explore the possible impacts of certain policy strategies, it clearly demonstrates that reduction of human pressures on the global environment is indeed technically possible if the willingness to change is there.

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