Opportunities for Climate Mitigation and Sustainable Development (OPTIMISM)

Lead Research Organisation: Imperial College London
Department Name: The Centre for Environmental Policy


This project addresses the challenge of how we can make sure that rapid and extensive action to mitigate climate change can be leveraged to deliver both Agenda 2030 and a well below 1.5o C world. The project takes a whole system perspective. It uses the sustainable development goal framework to analyse (i) how interactions between human development and the environment change with rapid and extensive climate mitigation, and (ii) how policy and practice interventions informed by a better understanding of enabling interactions can come together to create transformational change.
As decision-makers implement policies to reduce carbon emissions, the choice of policy measures and interventions will have profound implications on the SDGs and how they can be achieved. The integrated assessment model (IAM) scenarios developed for the IPCC Special Report on 1.5oC identify essential transitions that will require rapid, extensive and unprecedented change that impacts both the Earth system and human development. These transitions include:
- Rapid decarbonisation of industry - including hard to decarbonise sectors
- Dramatic increases in renewable energy - including 100% renewable energy networks
- Extensive land use and dietary change to meet demand for food and other ecosystem services
- Rapid decarbonisation of transport and modal shifts to public transport
For some sectors, mitigation transitions will provide significant co-benefits with achieving the SDGs. For example, promoting dietary changes could contribute to achieving goal 2 (zero hunger) and goal 15 (life on land). Safe and decarbonised public transport, can improve gender equity (goal 5) and health (goal 3) and reduce poverty (goal 1). In other cases, mitigation transitions can present substantial risks and trade-offs. For example, renewable energy networks based on bioenergy can have negative impacts on food security (goal 2) and biodiversity (goal 15). In this context, it becomes vital to expose hidden trade-offs and synergies to avoid unintended consequence.
Because many of the interactions between SDGs are non-linear over time and space, it is essential that decision makers have a systemic understanding of the thresholds and tipping points associated with delivering and motivating the technological and societal change required to mitigate climate in the short, medium and long term. For this reason, this project will work across multiple dimensions: scales, sectors and disciplines to address the evolution and dynamics of environment-human relationships for all SDGs and translate this knowledge into action.

Planned Impact

The TaSE programme aims to promote research on scalable, integrated approaches and solutions that can speak to decision-makers and citizens around the world. Our hypothesis in this project is that an improved understanding of dynamic interactions between SDG targets and climate mitigation can improve interventions design and selection. Aware that research achieves impact, benefitting ultimate beneficiaries, through non-linear and iterative pathways, we suggest that due to the broad scope of the project in terms of geographies, sectors, cultures and methodologies, the development of impact strategies will need to be adapted to the socio,-economic, environmental and cultural conditions of each case study.
In each of the four case studies, we will initiate the process with a stakeholder mapping exercise employing a review of the literature and our expert knowledge. Following that we will employ the results of the mapping exercise to identify decision makers considered critical for implementation. These groups will be engaged through workshop events and in-person interviews to co-design case-study specific impact strategies. This process will rely on two key elements: the definition of a 'theory of change' and a set of activities to promote impact. The theory of change is an approach used to guide project planning, describing the way in which overall objectives will be achieved by mapping inputs, activities and outcomes. By employing this approach we will develop impacts strategies flexible and adaptable to the changing circumstances in the case studies. The chosen set of activities to engage and increase uptake of the research will be customized based on the type of targeted beneficiaries and the features of each case study.
The project's ultimate beneficiaries are people who will suffer from the trade-offs generated by rapid and extensive mitigation of climate change on the opportunity for sustainable development of their country, communities and families. The assumption underlying this proposal is that failures of governance, which lead to trade-offs and unwanted impacts, are due to a lack of understanding of dynamic interactions between climate policies and SDG targets. As an explorative project, our main pathway to impact is through knowledge development and exchange with intermediary beneficiaries who have the power to develop and implement solutions that tackle governance failures. These include policy makers at international, country and local level will benefit from increased understanding of what works and the implications of the research for existing policies. A range of interactions both at international, national and local level will facilitate engagement in project activities and dissemination of results, e.g. through the production of policy briefs to share learning with practitioners and policy makers. This will translate policy relevant knowledge from the academic arena to a language and format that is intelligible to non-experts. Civil society organisations will be equipped with new knowledge regarding the impacts of climate mitigation on key SDGs allowing them to advocate for more equitable management of climate policy. One key element, which characterises this project, is the use of knowledge co-development activities to build a network of engaged participants - researchers, policy-makers and practitioners.
Description Partnership with Gujarat State Government 
Organisation Government of India
Department Government of Gujarat
Country India 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Stakeholder workshops
Collaborator Contribution 'The India team has obtained support from the Gujarat State Government to facilitate activities undertaken as part of the OPTIMISM project (Task 5) . The State government has agreed to support the OPTIMISM project work by facilitating contact with the local government in the case study cities and participate in the stakeholder meetings that will be organised in late 2020
Impact Pending
Start Year 2020
Description Research Seminar 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact 19 Postgraduate students attended a seminar on the project at the University of Ahmedabad, fostering a discussion about implementation of Sustainable development goals.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019