2.0 Potential exists to achieve all goals simultaniously

There are alternative pathways along which sustainable development goals could be achieved, but all require transformative changes.

Our analysis explores three alternative pathways, consisting of different combinations of technological measures and consumption changes that would achieve our set of sustainable development goals. However, these pathways also encounter particular problems, such as the environmental impacts of intensive agriculture or the difficulty of influencing consumption patterns. Although not all combinations are possible, combining elements of the pathways could make the response strategy more robust. This would also do justice to the pluriformity within society, as different elements would appeal to different actors.

2.1 Methodology applied in the report

The analysis is based on a model-based backcasting approach combined with analysis of governance issues.

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For this study, a backcasting approach was used, meaning that pathways were designed that would achieve the sustainability goals to explore the level of effort involved (taking into account technical feasibility constraints). We considered the challenge of achieving the comprehensive set of goals, within the same time frame, for different issues. It is clear that there are important linkages between the issues. Therefore, the PBL integrated assessment model IMAGE was used in combination with related models for biodiversity, human health and climate policy (GLOBIO, GISMO and FAIR, respectively). These models provide a global overview, while differentiating between world regions.

2.2 Different pathways towards sustainable development

There is sufficient potential to meet sustainability objectives. However, the approach used to unlock this potential, so far, has not been very successful.

In this study, three alternative pathways that combine different assumptions on the use of technology and consumption changes were used to explore how sustainable development goals could be achieved. The pathways differ in their emphasis on changing consumption patterns, the role of large-scale technology and the focus on global versus local approaches. Together, these pathways help to span a wide and diverse ‘solution space’ for achieving the sustainability goals.

Characterisation of analysed pathways

Pathway Main assumption
Global Technology Achieves the 2050 targets, with a focus on large-scale technologically optimal solutions, such as intensive agriculture and a high level of international coordination; for instance, though trade liberalisation
Decentralised Solutions Achieves the 2050 targets, with a focus on decentralised solutions, such as local energy production, agriculture that is interwoven with natural corridors and national policies that regulate equitable access to food
Consumption Change Achieves the 2050 targets, with a focus on changes in human consumption patterns, most notably by limiting meat intake per capita, by ambitious efforts to reduce waste in the agricultural production chain and through the choice of a less energy-intensive lifestyle

2.3 Transformative change is needed

For land, food and biodiversity, as well as for energy, climate and air pollution, marginal improvements will not suffice to achieve long-term sustainable development goals; large, transformative changes are needed.

Although the scenario analysis shows that, technically, development and environmental goals could be achieved, this would require rather bold, systemic changes. Decoupling of CO2 emissions from economic growth needs to take place at 4% to 6% a year, compared to an annual historical rate of around 1% to 2%. In agriculture, an average annual productivity increase of around 1% would be needed. This is comparable to historical rates, but the increase would have to continue for a long time period, as well as in areas that did not have significant yield increases in the past.

2.4 Development does not necessarily impact environmental sustainability

There is no fundamental trade-off between eradicating hunger as well as providing full access to modern energy, on the one hand, and achieving environmental sustainability, on the other.

Even if access to modern fuels for cooking and heating for the poor is achieved with fossil-fuel-based products, this would result in only a small increase in CO2 emissions, (partly) compensated by reduced emissions from deforestation and of black carbon. Similarly, the additional increase in food production required to eradicate hunger would be small compared to the overall increase to keep up with population growth and economic development. If hunger eradication would be facilitated by a redistribution of consumption levels, the required increase in production would be even less.

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