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Local and regional governments as pathfinders for the transition to a low-carbon economy

The energy transition required to mitigate against global warming is rightly regarded as a global, international challenge requiring macro-level shifts in environmental and economic policy, and the role of local and regional governments, be it in developing viable and replicable business models, acting as a lead customer in driving eco-innovative solutions, or using their economic leverage through procurement, can be easy to overlook.

As a global network of cities and regions working on both political advocacy and concrete projects relating to energy transition, ICLEI has established city networks aimed at uptake of renewable energy and setting of low-emissions targets, carrying out eco-innovative energy tenders, as well as community-owned energy projects and road-mapping projects for low-carbon heating and transport in cities.

Regional networks and eco-innovative tenders
The SPP Regions project, which concluded in March 2018, generated over 1000 GWh of renewable energy and achieved its carbon and energy savings targets through eco-innovative tenders carried out in the project’s 7 regional sustainable procurement networks.

Starting in 2015 and coordinated by ICLEI, the project has promoted the creation and expansion of European regional networks of municipalities working together on sustainable public procurement (SPP) and public procurement of innovation (PPI). As it approaches its conclusion, it has saved 395,000 tCO2/year and primary energy totaling 1,425 GWh/year, as well as procuring 1,015 GWh of renewable energy across 39 tenders in 7 countries, involving 31 contracting authorities. Additionally, the project recruited new partner networks in 8 other European regions and worked closely with the Procura+ European Sustainable Procurement Network.

The full list of tender models is available to download on the project website, where a savings calculation methodology used in the GPP2020 project demonstrates how the targets and achievements are quantified. The project has also produced a package of in-depth guidance and a series of ‘how-to’ videos on the implementation of various sustainable procurement practices such as market engagement and circular procurement, as well as the 3rd edition of the Procura+ Manual.

BuyZET – Mapping city’s transportation emissions footprints
Launched in November 2016, the BuyZET project is a partnership of cities aiming to achieve zero emission urban delivery of goods and services through procurement of innovation solutions and the development of city procurement plans.

The project has released a series of reports on the methods and results of the transportation footprint mapping exercise that identifies high priority procurement areas. These procurement areas have the potential, through improved processes and supplier solutions, to impact upon the transportation footprint of a public authority.

The first step in mapping the transportation footprint is to identify and include all activities performed by cities that involve transportation. Each city within the BuyZET project – Copenhagen, Oslo and Rotterdam – has studied the transportation impacts of different types of procurement activities following different methodologies developed within the project. The three reports from Copenhagen, Oslo and Rotterdam are available here, as well as a consolidated summary of the results of the three reports.

Heat Roadmap Europe
Heat Roadmap Europe, which studies heat demand accounting for approximately 85-90% of total heating and cooling in Europe, has issued a brochure which presents an overview of the current state of the energy demand for heating and cooling in the EU.

In March 2018, a workshop hosted by the EU Joint Research Centre and co-organised by Aalborg University and ICLEI, introduced participants to the project’s main mapping and modelling tools to develop national Heat Roadmaps: Forecast, Cost Curves, JRC-EU-TIMES and EnergyPLAN. Together the tools will allow for building technically possible and, socio-economically feasible, decarbonisation scenarios.

Campaigns and initiatives for a low-carbon economy
ICLEI convenes several collaborative initiatives involving energy and emissions targets at the European and global levels:

Cities for Climate Protection Campaign
Local Government Climate Roadmap
Procura+ European Sustainable Procurement Network
Global Lead City Network on Sustainable Procurement

Professor Benjamin Sovacool and Jessica Jewell write piece for The Conversation

On Thursday 8 March 2018, Professor Benjamin Sovacool and Jessical Jewell’s study ‘Fossil fuel subsidies need to go – but what about the poorer people who rely on cheap energy?’ was published in The Conversation.

Professor Benjamin Sovacool is Professor of Energy Policy at the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU) at the School of Business, Management, and Economics, part of the University of Sussex.  There he serves as Director of the Sussex Energy Group and Director of the Centre on Innovation and Energy Demand.

Drawing from a review he did for Ecological Economics, Benjamin has teamed up with Jessica Jewell from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis to write a piece about energy subsidies for The Conversation.

Read full publication here

 

We must accelerate transitions for sustainability and climate change, experts say

We must move faster towards a low-carbon world if we are to limit global warming to 2oC this century, experts have warned.

Changes in electricity, heat, buildings, industry and transport are needed rapidly and must happen all together, according to research from our partners at the Universities of Sussex. The new study, published in the journal Science, was co-authored by INNOPATHS’ Benjamin K. Sovacool.

To provide a reasonable (66%) chance of limiting global temperature increases to below 2oC, the International Energy Agency and International Renewable Energy Agency suggest that global energy-related carbon emissions must peak by 2020 and fall by more than 70% in the next 35 years. This implies a tripling of the annual rate of energy efficiency improvement, retrofitting the entire building stock, generating 95% of electricity from low-carbon sources by 2050 and shifting almost entirely towards electric cars.

This elemental challenge necessitates “deep decarbonisation” of electricity, transport, heat, industrial, forestry and agricultural systems across the world.  But despite the recent rapid growth in renewable electricity generation, the rate of progress towards this wider goal remains slow.

Moreover, many energy and climate researchers remain wedded to disciplinary approaches that focus on a single piece of the low-carbon transition puzzle. A case in point is a recent Science Policy Forum proposing a ‘carbon law’ that will guarantee that zero-emissions are reached. This model-based prescription emphasizes a single policy instrument, but neglects the wider political, cultural, business, and social drivers of low carbon transitions.

A new, interdisciplinary study published in Science presents a ‘sociotechnical’ framework that explains how these different drivers can interlink and mutually reinforce one another and how the pace of the low carbon transition can be accelerated.

Professor Benjamin K. Sovacool from the University of Sussex, a co-author on the study, says:

“Current rates of change are simply not enough. We need to accelerate transitions, deepen their speed and broaden their reach. Otherwise there can be no hope of reaching a 2 degree target, let alone 1.5 degrees. This piece reveals that the acceleration of transitions across the sociotechnical systems of electricity, heat, buildings, manufacturing, and transport requires new conceptual approaches, analytical foci, and research methods.”

The Policy Forum provides four key lessons for how to accelerate sustainability transitions.

Lesson 1: Focus on socio-technical systems rather than individual elements

Rapid and deep decarbonization requires a transformation of ‘sociotechnical systems’ – the interlinked mix of technologies, infrastructures, organizations, markets, regulations and user practices that together deliver societal functions such as personal mobility.  Previous systems have developed over many decades, and the alignment and co-evolution of their elements makes them resistant to change.

Accelerated low-carbon transitions therefore depend on both techno-economic improvements, and social, political and cultural processes, including the development of positive or negative discourses. Professor Steve Sorrell from the University of Sussex, a coauthor of the study, states: “In this policy forum we describe how transformational changes in energy and transport systems occur, and how they may be accelerated. Traditional policy approaches emphasizing a single technology will not be enough.”

Lesson 2: Align multiple innovations and systems

Socio-technical transitions gain momentum when multiple innovations are linked together, improving the functionality of each and acting in combination to reconfigure systems.  The shale gas revolution, for instance, accelerated when seismic imaging, horizontal drilling, and hydraulic fracturing were combined.   Likewise, accelerated low-carbon transitions in electricity depend not only on the momentum of renewable energy innovations like wind, solar-PV and bio-energy, but also on complementary innovations including energy storage and demand response.  These need aligned and then linked so that innovations are harmonized.

Prof. EU INNOPATHS consortium researching low-carbon transitions for Europe, comments: “One of the great strengths of this study is the equal emphasis it accords to technological, social, business and policy innovation, in all of which governments as well as the private sector have a key role to play.

“European countries will become low-carbon societies not only when the required low-carbon technologies have been developed but when new business models and more sustainable consumer aspirations are driving their deployment at scale. Public policy has an enormous role to play at every step in the creation of these changed conditions.”

Lesson 3: Offer societal and business support

Public support is crucial for effective transition policies. Low-carbon transitions in mobility, agro-food, heat and buildings will also involve millions of citizens who need to modify their purchase decisions, user practices, beliefs, cultural conventions and skills. To motivate citizens, financial incentives and information about climate change threats need to be complemented by positive discourses about the economic, social and cultural benefits of low-carbon innovations.

Furthermore, business support is essential because the development and deployment of low-carbon innovations depends upon the technical skills, organizational capabilities and financial resources of the private sector. Green industries and supply chains can solidify political coalitions supporting ambitious climate policies and provide a counterweight to incumbents.  Technological progress can drive climate policy by providing solutions or altering economic interests. Shale gas and solar-PV developments, for instance, altered the US and Chinese positions in the international climate negotiations.

Lesson 4: Phase out existing systems

Socio-technical transitions can be accelerated by actively phasing out existing technologies, supply chains, and systems that lock-in emissions for decades. Professor Sovacool comments that: “All too often, analysists and even policymakers focus on new incentives, on the phasing in of low-carbon technologies. This study reminds us that phasing out existing systems can be just as important as stimulating novel innovations.”

For instance, the UK transition to smokeless solid fuels and gas was accelerated by the 1956 Clean Air Act, which allowed cities to create smokeless zones where coal use was banned. Another example is the 2009 European Commission decision to phase-out incandescent light bulbs, which accelerated the shift to compact fluorescents and LEDs. French and UK governments have announced plans to phase-out petrol and diesel cars by 2040. Moreover, the UK intends to phase out unabated coal-fired power generation by 2025 (if feasible alternatives are available).

Phasing out existing systems accelerates transitions by creating space for niche-innovations and removing barriers to their diffusion. The phase-out of carbon-intensive systems is also essential to prevent the bulk of fossil fuel reserves from being burned, which would obliterate the 2oC target. This phase-out will be challenging since it threatens the largest and most powerful global industries (e.g. oil, automobiles, electric utilities, agro-food, steel), which will fight to protect their vested economic and political interests.

Conclusion 

Deep decarbonization requires complementing model-based analysis with socio-technical research. While the former analyzes technically feasible least-cost pathways, the latter addresses innovation processes, business strategies, social acceptance, cultural discourses and political struggles, which are difficult to model but crucial in real-world transitions. As Professor Geels notes, an enduring lesson is that “to accelerate low-carbon transitions, policymakers should not only stimulate techno-economic developments, but also build political coalitions, enhance business involvement, and engage civil society.”

Additionally, the research underscores the non-technical, or social, elements of transitions.  Dr. Tim Schwanen from the University of Oxford, a coauthor, states that “the approach described in this Policy Forum demonstrates the importance of heeding insights from across the social sciences in thinking about low-carbon transitions.”

While full integration of both approaches is not possible, productive bridging strategies may enable policy strategies that are both cost-effective and socio-politically feasible.

Further links

This article was originally posted on the University of Sussex website.

Click here to read the full paper in Science

Bringing into focus the financing challenge of the low-carbon innovation

For some time in discussions about a global transition towards a low-carbon economy the unacknowledged elephant in the room was the financial sector. Various estimates from the International Energy Agency and others suggest that annual investment in a low-carbon energy system to mid-century will need to average USD2-3 trillion, with two thirds of that comprising a shift in investment from high-carbon to low-carbon infrastructure, and the other third being extra low-carbon investments. The 100 trillion dollar question about the elephant, which is now at least being increasingly acknowledged, is how such a dramatic shift in investment finance can be achieved.

Part of the problem for the investors who will need to make this shift is that it is not yet clear precisely which technologies should be the recipient of this investment. Innovation in new energy technologies, and corresponding changes in business models and consumer behaviour, are proceeding at a bewildering rate; however most projections indicate that current (financial) commitments fall short in achieving a 2° world. Trying to understand such innovation, and where it may lead, is at the heart of the INNOPATHS project, which was presented to a full house in Brussels on June 22 as part of Sustainable Energy Week.

An early output from INNOPATHS, the construction of which is being led by Aalto University in Finland, is a Technology Assessment Matrix, the purpose of which is to provide online insights into how technologies are developing, what their potential might be in terms of cost and scale of deployment, and how they might fit into the low-carbon energy system of the future.

Stimulating investment on the scale required to come anywhere near the 1.5-2oC temperature target of the 2015 Paris Agreement will require, in addition to technologies that offer large-scale energy efficiency savings or low-carbon energy supply, measures that will address institutional, regulatory, informational and business constraints on investment, as well as a supportive policy environment to pull through low-carbon investment that do not yet meet normal criteria of risk-adjusted rate of return.

These are among the topics addressed by the finance workstream of the INNOPATHS project, led by Utrecht University in the Netherlands, ETH in Switzerland and The Potsdam Institute for Climate Research in Germany, the first workshop of which will be held in Utrecht in September. Here, experts from the financial sector will meet and discuss the challenges ahead with energy company representatives and policy makers. These topics were also the subject of the recent meeting of the European Commission’s High-Level Panel of the European Decarbonisation Pathways Initiative, which will be producing a report in 2018 on research needs in Europe to ensure that the European Union can make the most of the many economic and other opportunities offered by deep decarbonisation of the energy system.

Another initiative that brought the financial sector into full focus was the workshop at UCL on July 5th, organised by the European Horizon 2020 Green-Win project, entitled ‘The Risk Transition: shifting investment to a low carbon economy’. The Keynote Speaker was Russell Picot, Special Adviser to the Financial Stability Board’s Climate-related Financial Disclosures Task Force, the final report and recommendations from which were published on June 29. Its areas of core recommendations were governance, strategy, risk management and metrics and targets. While the suggested measures were intended to be voluntary at present, it is clearly possible that they will become mandatory as experience with how best to disclose climate risk is acquired and the need for the great energy transition investment becomes appreciated as increasingly urgent.

INNOPATHS finance workstream colleagues also contribute to the New Pathways for Sustainable Finance process, led by the Brussels-based institution Finance Watch, the Global Alliance for Banking on Values, and Mission 2020, which over the next few will explore a financial market design conducive to a low-carbon transition and specific actionable areas to be addressed by 2020.

Such projects, initiatives, events and publications at least mean that the various parts of the elephant of transition finance for a low-carbon future are being recognised put together, so that the shape of the whole challenge ahead is becoming apparent. What is now required is determined action on the various insights that are being generated being the temperature targets of the Paris Agreement slip quite out of reach.

By Paul Ekins, Professor of Resources and Environment Policy and Director, UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources