The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Agreement pose new conceptual challenges for energy decision makers by compelling them to consider the implications of their choices for development and climate mitigation objectives. However, they have relatively few tools to pragmatically consider these implications.
This paper reviews how multi-criteria decision approaches (MCDA) are used by decision makers globally to consider multiple social and environmental objectives. Based on a collation of 167 studies, the authors find that multi-criteria approaches can be used by policy makers to:
- distil a finite set of objectives from those of a large number of actors. This process is political, and objectives are often aligned with vested interests or institutional incentives;
- build qualitative and quantitative evidence to capture the implications of energy choices across economic, environmental, social and political metrics; and
- identify and manage synergies and trade-offs between energy, social and environmental objectives, and in turn, make explicit the political implications of choices for different actors.
As the figure above shows, most of the applications of MCDA have been used in academic settings and in the Global North. As pressures to implement international pledges such as the SDGs and Nationally Determined Contributions to the Paris Agreement grow, decision makers may increasingly seek productive ways to engage these political contexts, and make them tractable. The paper argues for a mainstreaming of such a multi-criteria and deliberative approaches for energy policy decisions in developing countries where trade-oﬀs between energy, development and climate mitigation are more contentious while recognizing the data, capacity and transparency requirements of the process.
The complete open-access paper in Energy Research and Social Science can be found here.