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Exploring the Linkages between Climate Change and Sustainable Development: A Challenge for Transdisciplinary Research

Mohan Munasinghe, Munasinghe Institute for Development (MIND)


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In recent years, both sustainable development and climate change have become well known worldwide, and the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has also focused on the nexus of these two key topics. The IPCC third assessment report confirms that global mean temperatures will rise 1.5-6 degrees Celsius during the next century. Furthermore, climate change will significantly affect the economic, social, and environmental dimensions of sustainable development, as well as key issues like poverty and equity. Therefore, the IPCC is seeking answers to important questions: how future development patterns will affect climate change; how climate change impacts, adaptation, and mitigation will affect future sustainable development prospects; and how climate change responses might be better integrated into emerging sustainable development strategies.

Some key lessons have emerged from these efforts. The IPCC intellectual community has already proved to be quite cohesive and resilient in the face of determined attacks by powerful and well-financed “anti-climate change” lobbies. While addressing sustainable development issues, adaptation and learning within the IPCC have further strengthened the network. First, fresh ideas have been brought in to catalyze change. Transdisciplinary approaches are essential to deal with large-scale, long-term, complex, and interlinked issues like sustainable development and climate change. Second, the disciplinary mix has continued to evolve to meet the challenge. However, crossing disciplinary and cultural boundaries requires sound knowledge of one’s own discipline (especially its limitations), open-mindedness, great patience, and sincere effort on all sides. Third, IPCC internal processes have adjusted to facilitate beneficial changes, while limiting harmful dissension. E-mail has proved to be a powerful, but potentially risky tool. How something is said could be as important as what is said, to ensure effective communication. Despite some difficult moments, fair-mindedness and good will have prevailed. The IPCC has been able to accommodate different ways of thinking about the problem, as well as new modes of communication, while reinforcing desirable codes of conduct and behavioral norms.

Key words

climate change, IPCC, sustainable development, transdisciplinary research

Copyright © 2001 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087