Both at the Belgian and European level, the transition to a low-carbon society is considered an important policy concern. In this project, we start from the framework of sustainable development for contributing to the debate about how the transition to a low-carbon society can be achieved, while reconciling environmental and social goals. As has been documented for other countries, standard policy instruments often create trade-offs between the different goals of sustainable development. Addressing these trade-offs – as well as their translation into inequalities between socioeconomic groups – requires a thorough understanding of the link between incomes, consumption and greenhouse gas emissions at the household level. Therefore, in this project we explore the interdependencies and inequalities operating at the micro-level and investigate how policy can reconcile social and environmental goals in the transition towards a low-carbon society. More in particular, we will seek an answer to the following questions:
- How can the apparent trade-off between environmental objectives and objectives of distributive justice be understood with respect to low-carbon policies?
- What mechanisms are at play that explain how household actors are affected differently by low carbon policies, generating socio-environmental inequalities?
- Under what conditions do conflicts between competing policy goals emerge, and under what conditions can distributive and low carbon objectives be reconciled?
- What “high potential” policy packages can be identified that could succeed in reconciling social and environmental objectives, and what would their impacts on inequality, consumption and greenhouse gas emissions be if implemented in Belgium?
- What are the governance mechanisms at play when looking at low carbon policies and what could Belgium learn in terms of governance from other countries?
In order to answer these questions, we will:
- Refine the role of the household actor in theories of transition and explain the implications for low-carbon policy instruments;
- Construct a database that combines information on incomes, consumption and the environmental impact of consumption at the household level in Belgium, and map the interrelationships between these factors as well as the current governance context of low-carbon policies in Belgium;
- Adapt and refine existing microsimulation models to run on this new dataset, thereby enabling the joint estimation of the distributive and ecological impacts of low-carbon policies;
- Study policy packages that combine social and environmental goals in other European countries and analyse their governance context;
- Evaluate the distributive and environmental impacts of selected policy packages if they would be implemented in Belgium, on the basis of the developed databases and simulation models;
- Contribute to the development of a new policy paradigm, which allows for an integrative understanding of sustainable development and the multi-dimensionality of socio-environmental inequalities.