The University of Glasgow has contributed to a new briefing paper outlining the co-benefits of future action to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change.  
The paper, titled ‘Co-benefits of Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Actions’, is the latest publication from the COP26 Universities Network, a group of 80+ UK universities working together to help make the upcoming COP26 a success.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) refer to co-benefits as “the positive effects that a policy or measure aimed at one objective might have on other objectives”.
Maximising the co-benefits of climate action while minimising the inevitable trade-offs is expected to be key to ensuring public support for decarbonisation is maintained.  
The paper’s authors outline how the co-benefits approach to climate-related decision making currently remains overlooked and underutilised, and suggest a number of approaches which could help embed greater awareness in future plans to achieve net-zero.
They provide evidence that carefully-planned, co-ordinated climate action can create powerful synergies that result in other benefits in areas including health, biodiversity and environmental conservation, and the economy.
Professor Jaime Toney, director of the University of Glasgow’s Centre for Sustainable Solutions, is a co-author of the report. Prof Toney said: “Delivering effective strategies to help us tackle climate change and reach our net-zero goals will require a broad-based, systems-thinking approach.
“At every step, we’ll need to evaluate how the changes we propose to the interlinked systems of our economies, our lifestyles and our environment will affect each other, and work to ensure that those changes provide more benefits than trade-offs.
“Maintaining that delicate balance between benefits and trade-offs will be challenging. However, it’s vital that we start to build informed awareness of those challenges into our climate decisionmaking now so that we can create the fairer, healthier, more biodiverse and economically-viable future that we deserve.”
The key messages of the briefing paper are:

  • With careful, integrated planning and policies, climate mitigation and adaptation interventions can have a large number of other positive impacts, providing co-benefits to society. However, this is currently underutilised.
  • The value of co-benefits often equals or outweighs the cost of climate mitigation and/or adaptation interventions.
  • Considering co-impacts (benefits and negative consequences) in planning and decision-making incentivises stakeholders to work together in a more integrated way and can garner support for more ambitious policy and actions, as well as help link local, regional and national-level policies and actions.
  • Climate actions with carefully planned co-benefits can trigger additive effects, leading to further reduction in greenhouse gases.
  • Focusing on co-benefits can help to ensure public support for climate action and incentivise changes in behaviour amongst citizens, as co-benefits are often more readily recognisable positive impacts of a net-zero transition.
  • There should be a requirement to assess co-impacts (co-benefits and co-harms) for proposed policy and actions, as our natural capital is finite, and so any action is necessarily a trade-off.
  • There is a strong incentive to encourage systems-thinking in planning and decision-making during the transition to net-zero, instead of insular and vested interests and silo-working, in order to achieve more effective climate policy, more sustainable and better economies, and provide a safer and higher-quality environment that improves peoples’ lives.
  • Considering co-benefits in climate actions should not deter or dampen the main goal of climate actions, or be used as smoke screen for inaction.
  • Creating appropriate local and global indicators of co-impacts across the system (e.g., economy, public health, wellbeing, environment) is necessary to allow for monitoring of co-benefits, rebound effects and unintended consequences, and research into co-impacts for an effective and just net-zero transition.

The lead author of the paper is Professor Sebastien Chastin of Glasgow Caldonian University. Other experts involved in the briefing paper were Dr Neil Jennings, Grantham Institute at Imperial College London; Professor Laura Diaz Anadon of the University of Cambridge; and Professor Pete Smith, University of Aberdeen.