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The costs and benefits of environmental sustainability

Ekins, P; Zenghelis, D; (2021) The costs and benefits of environmental sustainability. Sustainability Science 10.1007/s11625-021-00910-5. (In press). Green open access

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Abstract

The natural science in GEO-6 makes clear that a range and variety of unwelcome outcomes for humanity, with potentially very significant impacts for human health, become increasingly likely if societies maintain their current development paths. This paper assesses what is known about the likely economic implications of either current trends or the transformation to a low-carbon and resource-efficient economy in the years to 2050 for which GEO-6 calls. A key conclusion is that no conventional cost–benefit analysis for either scenario is possible. This is because the final cost of meeting various decarbonisation and resource-management pathways depends on decisions made today in changing behaviour and generating innovation. The inadequacies of conventional modelling approaches generally lead to understating the risks from unmitigated climate change and overstating the costs of a low-carbon transition, by missing out the cumulative gains from path-dependent innovation. This leads to a flawed conclusion as to how to respond to the climate emergency, namely that significant reductions in emissions are prohibitively expensive and, therefore, to be avoided until new, cost-effective technologies are developed. We argue that this is inconsistent with the evidence and counterproductive in serving to delay decarbonisation efforts, thereby increasing its costs. Understanding the processes which drive innovation, change social norms and avoid locking in to carbon- and resource-intensive technologies, infrastructure and behaviours, will help decision makers as they ponder how to respond to the increasingly stark warnings of natural scientists about the deteriorating condition of the natural environment.

Type: Article
Title: The costs and benefits of environmental sustainability
Location: Japan
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1007/s11625-021-00910-5
Publisher version: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11625-021-00910-5
Language: English
Additional information: This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/.
Keywords: Dynamic costs and benefits, Endogenous growth, GEO-6, Low-carbon transition, Path dependency and Lock in
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of the Built Environment
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of the Built Environment > Bartlett School Env, Energy and Resources
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10125304
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