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WIREs Clim Change
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Human well‐being and climate change mitigation

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Climate change mitigation research is fundamentally motivated by the preservation of human lives and the environmental conditions which enable them. However, the field has to date rather superficial in its appreciation of theoretical claims in well‐being thought, with deep implications for the framing of mitigation priorities, policies, and research. Major strands of well‐being thought are hedonic well‐being—typically referred to as happiness or subjective well‐being—and eudaimonic well‐being, which includes theories of human needs, capabilities, and multidimensional poverty. Aspects of each can be found in political and procedural accounts such as the Sustainable Development Goals. Situating these concepts within the challenges of addressing climate change, the choice of approach is highly consequential for: (1) understanding inter‐ and intra‐generational equity; (2) defining appropriate mitigation strategies; and (3) conceptualizing the socio‐technical provisioning systems that convert biophysical resources into well‐being outcomes. Eudaimonic approaches emphasize the importance of consumption thresholds, beyond which dimensions of well‐being become satiated. Related strands of well‐being and mitigation research suggest constraining consumption to within minimum and maximum consumption levels, inviting normative discussions on the social benefits, climate impacts, and political challenges associated with a given form of provisioning. The question of how current socio‐technical provisioning systems can be shifted towards low‐carbon, well‐being enhancing forms constitutes a new frontier in mitigation research, involving not just technological change and economic incentives, but wide‐ranging social, institutional, and cultural shifts.

The relevance of well‐being theory for climate change research and policy. Unlike hedonic and utility‐based approaches, human needs theory argues that vital dimensions of well‐being correlate with consumption, but only up to a threshold. This implies a mitigation strategy that protects minimum levels of consumption but critically analyses excessive consumption. In addition, the provisioning context of human needs is seen as participatory, where transformative mitigation potential can be found in social as well as technological change.
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