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Central banking and the energy transition

Continuous renewable energy deployment may be less certain than previously thought. If interest rates rise, the cost of renewable energy is disproportionately affected compared to fossil fuel alternatives. Thermostatic policies can help ensuring renewable energy deployment in such environments.

Image above: Continuous deployment of wind farms may be less certain than previously thought. Aerial take from a wind farm. Photo by Thomas Richter on Unsplash

Unfortunately, no rooftop bar in Singapore and no conference dinner in the foothills of Tuscany mark the beginning of this research project. Instead, the development of this paper demonstrates the gradual nature of research. Over the last two years, we spent an awful lot of time discussing the role of finance in the energy transition as part of the EU Horizon 2020 research project INNOPATHS. We met with investors to try to understand their behaviour, we interviewed policymakers to figure out what their intentions and constraints were in designing policy and we collaborated with academics to find out what exactly we already know about the enabling role of finance in energy transitions.

In this process, we discovered the pivotal role of experience in the financial sector, which led to a paper in Nature Energy (free read-only) demonstrating that decreasing financing costs contributed a large share to making renewable energy cost competitive with fossil fuel alternatives. In fact we discovered not only the importance of experience, but even more so the decisive role that general interest rates play in determining the competitiveness of renewable energy. Our analysis showed that lower general interest rates decreased the levelised cost of electricity (LCOE) by 4% to 20% for utility-scale German solar photovoltaics and onshore wind respectively between the period of 2000-2005 and 2017. Soon we asked ourselves; to what extent does large-scale renewable energy deployment depend on extremely expansive monetary policy as we have seen it in the aftermath of the 2008/09 financial crisis?

So we set off to find out. In a new paper in Nature Sustainability (free read-only), we looked at the same two technologies, onshore wind and solar PV, in Germany and developed three scenarios. A flat scenario, where interest rates stay at the current record-low levels. A moderate scenario, where interest rates recover with the same speed as they declined after the financial crisis. And an extreme scenario, where interest rates rise to pre-crisis levels at twice the speed they declined before. In the extreme scenario, LCOEs for the two technologies increase by 11% (solar photovoltaics) and 25% (onshore wind) over just five years (2018 to 2023). Even in the moderate scenario, the higher financing costs outweigh the expected decreases of hardware cost for onshore wind (LCOE +9%) and almost entirely eat up these technology cost reductions due to learning (LCOE -2%) for solar photovoltaics. As a result, we show that adding new renewable energy capacity becomes economically unviable compared to hard coal power plants takes a severe hit if interest rates rise again.

In light of the recent EU decision to scrap binding renewable energy deployment targets for member states these results may announce difficult times for renewable electricity deployment and hence climate targets. However, one may ask, are these scenarios realistic? The temptation is to respond with a sounding no. Just this month, the European Central Bank confirmed record-low interest rates, its president Mario Draghi openly speaks of evaluating new ideas, such as venturing more into fiscal domains using the Modern Monetary Theory, and there is an ongoing debate about expanding the toolkit of central banks to provide cheap liquidity. In the United States, the central bank acted differently: it steadily increased interest rates since December 2015, until it changed course in August 2019 and lowered the interest rate twice. Some commentators see more structural factors (e.g., aging population, low immigration, few investment opportunities) behind the ongoing struggle to unleash economic growth and judge expansionary monetary policy as the wrong remedy for the curse. Proponents of the secular stagnation, like Larry Summers, would favour rising interest rates in combination with rising government spending in education and infrastructure and potentially more liberal immigration laws.

Image 2: The decision hub for European monetary policy – and renewable energy policy too? Night shot of the European Central Bank’s headquarters in Frankfurt. Photo by Paul Fiedler on Unsplash

In sum, the discussions around appropriate monetary policy and hence future interest rate levels are far from being resolved. While interest rates currently remain low in the European context, it is far from certain that this will be the case in the future too. Consequently, climate policy and renewable energy policy in particular need to keep an eye on interest rate developments. Ideally, thermostatic policies would be in place that automatically adjust given the current interest rate environment. In the short run, renewable energy auctions fulfil this criteria and counter potential cost hits on renewables due to interest rate increases. In the longer run however, a transition away from renewable specific support policies seems likely. In such a case, existing emission trading schemes, such as the EU or the Californian ETS, could be equipped with a price floor to ensure renewable energy deployment even in high interest rates environments.

Unfortunately, even countries such as Germany, which used to be known for progressive renewable energy policies, remain rather far from this ideal. For example, to reach its Paris target, Germany would need to install about 5 new wind turbines a day, but only connected 35 to the grid so far this year. A natural next step for research would hence be to investigate, how significant interest groups can be formed to support thermostatic policies and how these policies can be designed in order to survive government changes after elections. Comparing the results of our paper with reality, we circle back to the start and find the next exciting research question… Perhaps we should have a kick-off meeting at a fancy place this time!

Originally published on the Nature Sustainability Research Community page, Wednesday 25th September 2019.

Why matter matters: How technology characteristics shape the strategic framing of technologies

Previous work stresses that actors use strategic technology framing—i.e. purposeful language and rhetoric—to shape technology expectations, persuade stakeholders, and influence the evolution of technologies along their life-cycle. Currently, however, the literature predominantly describes strategic technology framing as a sociopolitical process, and provides only limited insights into how the framing itself is shaped by the material characteristics of the technologies being framed. To address this shortcoming, we conducted a comparative, longitudinal case study of two leading research organizations in the United States and Germany pursuing competing solar photovoltaic (PV) technologies to examine how technology characteristics shape the strategic framing of technologies. We show that to frame PV technologies in their own favor, executives made use of four framing dimensions (potential, prospect, performance, and progress) and three framing tactics (conclusion, conditioning, and concession). Moreover, we show that which framing dimensions and tactics actors selected depended on the maturity and evolution of the technology they pursued, respectively. By highlighting how technology characteristics shape strategic technology framing, we contribute to the literatures on social movements, institutional entrepreneurship, and impression management. Additionally, by providing a coherent framework of strategic technology framing, our study complements existing findings in the literature on the sociology of expectations and contributes to a better understanding of how technology hypes emerge.

Written by Joern Hoppmann, Laura Diaz Anadon and Venkatesh Narayanamurti

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Unheard voices across the lifecycle of digital technologies and low-carbon transitions

Lived experiences of cobalt miners in the DRC and e-waste workers in Ghana

We are living in a society that relies heavily on digital technology, and these technologies have become so engrained in our everyday lives that we rarely question where they come from, whose labour contributes to their existence and what happens after we dispose of it. Some technologies, such as electric vehicles, solar panels, and heat pumps, also rely on both degrees of digitization and many of the same metals, minerals, and components as digital technologies.

How many of us have thought about purchasing an electric vehicle, or installing solar panels on our home? Or, perhaps more commonly, how many of us have found ourselves automatically agreeing to an “upgrade” with our phone network provider after our smartphone stopped working shortly after the end of a two-year contract?  

A transition to a more sustainable economy will require joint efforts from corporations and governments to work towards a circular economy, to decrease the impact of products on our planet across their lifecycle, starting from what raw materials we use to how waste is handled. But how will this impact people working at different stages of the product’s lifecycle—especially the front end (mining and extractive industries) and back end (recycling and waste management)— in parts of the world with weak governance structures and lack of policy enforcement and accountability?

A set of two recent twin studies have looked at cobalt mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and toxic electronic waste  (e-waste) processing in Ghana. These two studies set out to humanise the challenges of both these sectors by revealing the lived experiences of cobalt miners and e-waste workers.

Cobalt miners and scrapyard workers in the DRC and Ghana, 2019

The photo on the left shows an artisanal cobalt mining team near Kolwezi, mining on the Kasulu concession in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Note the young age of most of the miners, the use of manual tools as well as the lack of any women present. The photo on the right shows a scrapyard worker at Agbogbloshie, near Accra, Ghana, using fire to melt down electronic and digital appliances so that copper can be extracted. Note the lack of any protective equipment as well as the thick black smoke.

Giving a voice to people whose experiences are rarely considered in decision-making processes put the impact of our addiction to digital technologies into stark light.

The Democratic Republic of Congo produces roughly 60% of the global supply of cobalt, which is used in our phones and computers, as well as other technologies such as electric vehicles, wind turbines and solar panels. Despite having vast natural resources, 63% of Congolese citizens live below the national poverty line of less than $1 per day.

In the DRC, corporate firms and mining associations operate with perhaps as much power as government actors, with miners finding themselves at the bottom of the hierarchy of interests. Many of these miners work in conditions that harms their health and even endangers their life. In many cases they have no protective equipment or tools to work with, so they have to dig by hand. There are no trade unions to protect their interests or cooperatives that could fight for improved conditions.

The situation is similar with toxic e-waste workers in Ghana. Negative health impacts among scrapyard residents and workers, child labour and environmental pollution are ubiquitous.

Unheard voices can also help highlight the other side of the story. People trapped in poverty in areas with almost no opportunities for formal employment have lower expectations when it comes to working conditions. Cobalt mining in the DRG and work on the scrapyard in Agbogbloshie, Accra have provided a route out of poverty for the community. When you are offered two and a half times above the average income of informal economic workers in the country and you have a family to feed, you don’t think about the health impacts.

Many workers we spoke as part of our research showed pride in their work, which has become a key part of their cultural identity. One of our expert interviewees in Ghana explained

“We call it e-waste, but people on the ground do not call it that … Scrap dealers do not identify as waste managers, they instead see themselves as harvesting commodities as part of a lively value chain. They are community stewards”.

Discontinuing cobalt mining or e-waste processing in these countries without thinking about the people who will be impacted on the ground will have disastrous consequences. We don’t have to look too far to see, how, phasing out certain industries without thinking about providing alternative employment opportunities can destroy a community.  

A thoughtful response to a challenging situation is needed. Our research explores what policy makers can do at a global as well as national level to tackle the challenges arising. One thing is key: when thinking about a sustainable future, we need to remember the unheard voices, lives sacrificed at the altar of consumerism. Solutions need to consider their future and how we can shift away from harmful practices while also offering alternative pathways out of poverty in a way that preserves the community’s pride and identity.

Finally, you might ask, what we can do as consumers. We can remember that our phones and EVs don’t come from nowhere and don’t just go away. The “away” is a very real, living, breathing, suffering “place”). But also, it is a place with pride.

The research summarized here is published in the following two studies, both peer-reviewed academic journals, and both a part of the INNOPATHS project:

Sovacool, BK. “The precarious political economy of cobalt: Balancing prosperity, poverty, and brutality in artisanal and industrial mining in the Democratic Republic of the Congo,” Extractive Industries & Society 6(3) (July, 2019), pp. 915-939.  Available at https://authors.elsevier.com/a/1ZjZH_,52Irqxfa

Sovacool, BK. “Toxic transitions in the lifecycle externalities of a digital society: The complex afterlives of electronic waste in Ghana,” Resources Policy 64 (December, 2019), 101459, pp-1-21.  Available at https://authors.elsevier.com/a/1ZrGM14YFwvkMb

Political acceptability of climate policies: do we need a “just transition” or simply less unequal societies?

This blog post is partly based on the policy paper “Job Losses and the Political Acceptability of Climate Policies: why the job killing argument is so persistent and how to overturn it.”

Concerns for a “just transition” towards a low-carbon economy are now part of mainstream political debates as well as of international negotiations on climate change. Key political concerns centre on the distributional impacts of climate policies. On the one hand, the “job killing” argument has been repeatedly used to undermine the political acceptability of climate policy and to ensure generous exemptions to polluting industries in most countries. On the other hand, the rising populist parties point to carbon taxes as another enhancer of socio-economic inequalities. For instance, the Gilets Jaunes (Yellow vest) movement in France is a classic example of the perceived tension between social justice and environmental sustainability. 

Demand for a fairer distribution of carbon-related fuel taxes and of subsidies for electric vehicles mirrors the political demand for income compensation to ‘brown sector’ workers displaced by climate policies. Such increased demand for redistribution depends on the fact that main winners of climate policies (e.g. those with the right set of skills to perform emerging green jobs or with enough income to consider buying a subsidized electric car) are fundamentally different from the main losers (e.g. those who work in polluting industries and drive long distances with diesel cars). Importantly, the identity of the winners and losers coincides with that of the winners and losers of other, more pervasive, structural transformations, such as automation and globalization. Indeed, the winners are wealthier, more educated and living in nicer neighbourhoods than the losers. The spatial sorting of winners and losers polarizes not only the perception of the costs and benefits of climate policies, but leads also to the emergence of apparently irrational behaviour. In several cases such as Taranto in Italy or Dunkirk in France, employees in polluting activities, whose families are the first to be exposed to such pollution, are willing to accept health risks to preserve their jobs.

Absurd as it may appear, such opposition against ambitious climate policies from the left-behind is the tip of the iceberg of more fundamental problems of our societies, namely, the enormous increase in income inequality. For both the left-behind and an increasingly fragile middle class, it may be more important to satisfy basic needs such as “work”, “food”, “shelter”, “communicating” than eating organic food or supporting climate policies. For a given level of income per capita, citizens’ support for green policies is likely to be significantly lower the more unequal the society because the median voter’s income may be just enough to satisfy the basic needs mentioned above. Likewise, a lower level support for climate policies is concentrated in regions that depend more on carbon-intensive industries.

Fortunately, there are well-known solutions to restore the right support to an ambitious plan to fight climate change. Politicians can easily identify the right amount of subsidies to neutralize the distributional effects of climate policies either on displaced workers, or on most affected consumers. Several solutions have been discussed and implemented ranging from direct transfers of the revenues of a carbon tax to recycling schemes to reduce taxes on labour and capital. In its operational definition, the just transition is thus a policy package whose aim is to mitigate the negative distributional effects of climate policies for those at the bottom of the income distribution.

There is, however, a powerful ethical argument that undermines the viability of these well-known solutions. Why should a worker displaced by a carbon tax have more rights than a worker displaced by a robot? The ethical bases to justify the special status of any policies inspired by the just transition are at best weak, and special policy solutions for brown sector workers may fuel the resentment of those left behind by automation and globalization. An alternative and far more radical solution appears to be to think at the high level of inequality of our societies as a main constraint to fight climate change. The threat posed by growing tension between inequality and environmental sustainability should thus push reforms of our welfare and fiscal systems that protect the workers left behind by trade, globalization and climate policies, thus weakening one of the main constraints to ensure a broad political support to the low-carbon transition.

Adverse effects of rising interest rates on sustainable energy transitions

Increasing the use of renewable energy (RE) is a key enabler of sustainable energy transitions. While the costs of RE have substantially declined in the past, here we show that rising interest rates (IRs) can reverse the trend of decreasing RE costs, particularly in Europe with its historically low IRs. In Germany, IRs recovering to pre-financial crisis levels in 5 years could add 11% and 25% to the levelized cost of electricity for solar photovoltaics and onshore wind, respectively, with financing costs accounting for about one-third of total levelized cost of electricity. As fossil-fuel-based electricity costs are much less and potentially even negatively affected by rising IRs, the viability of RE investments would be markedly deteriorated. On the basis of these findings, we argue that rising IRs could jeopardize the sustainable energy transition and we propose a self-adjusting thermostatic policy strategy to safeguard against rising IRs.

Written by Tobias S. Schmidt, Bjarne Steffen, Florian Egli, Michael Pahle, Oliver Tietjen & Ottmar Edenhofer

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Climate policies and skill-biased employment dynamics: Evidence from EU countries

The political acceptability of climate policies is undermined by job-killing arguments, especially for the least-skilled workers. However, evidence of the distributional impacts for different workers remains scant. We examine the associations between climate policies, proxied by energy prices, and workforce skills for 14 European countries and 15 industrial sectors over the period 1995–2011. Using a shift-share instrumental variable estimator and controlling for the influence of automation and globalization, we find that climate policies have been skill biased against manual workers and have favoured technicians. The long-term change in energy prices accounted for between 9.2% and 17.5% (resp. 4.2% and 8.0%) of the increase (resp. decrease) in the share of technicians (resp. manual workers).

Written by Giovanni Marin and Francesco Vona

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INNOPATHS holds a workshop for European policymakers

How might Europe achieve deep decarbonisation? The INNOPATHS project is using a process of stakeholder engagement and co-design to develop decarbonisation pathways for Europe to 2050 – each of which explores a different route to deep decarbonisation. On Tuesday 9th July the project brought together policymakers from across Europe to think through how decarbonisation

Will incumbent industries and infrastructures (like gas networks) play a big role in shaping technology choices, or will upstart newcomers disrupt and reshape the business landscape for energy? Will populist movements cause some countries to fall behind, while others press ahead towards net-zero, leading to a Europe with “two speeds” of decarbonisation? How might a “circular” or “sharing” economy change patterns of energy demand?  These are important issues for long-term energy strategy, and are explored through the narrative scenarios being developed within the INNOPATHS project. Each narrative highlights knowledge gaps, where more research might help, and each one highlights challenges for policymakers.

The workshop discussions helped the INNOPATHS team to further develop the narrative scenarios. The key aspects of these narratives will then be quantified using the project’s suite of integrated assessment and energy modelling tools, and then made available to explore via an interactive decarbonisation simulator. The final narratives—and associated modelling—will be completed in March 2020. Watch this space!

Low-carbon transition in European carbon-intensive regions: mission impossible or indispensability?

The role of carbon-intensive regions in the EU

Coal production has been in decline in the EU in recent years; production decreased by over 30% between 2000 and 2015. However, unlike renewables, solid fossil fuel production is not evenly distributed on the continent. Coal is mined in more than 40 EU regions across 12 Member States and it is burnt in over 200 power plants. Approximately a quarter of a million Europeans are directly employed in the coal mining and coal power sector. In terms of employment, Silesia – located in southern Poland – is the largest coal-based region in the EU.

The coal path of Silesia – widening the road or striving for a cul-de-sac

Poland is the largest European coal-based economy with hard coal being the main energy resource, although its share has been decreasing. The latest governmental draft on “Energy Policy for Poland till 2040” assumes a 60% share of coal in the energy mix in 2040 as well as an increase in energy generation from offshore wind farms and the replacement of lignite by nuclear energy after 2030. It is crystal clear that in the next two decades, coal will still be a major source of energy although its consumption by the power sector is to decline by nearly 20%. For years, Silesia has been the region with the second highest contribution to the national GDP, exceeded only by the Masovia Voivodeship with Warsaw – the capital city of Poland. Nevertheless, the importance of Silesia for the Polish economy has been gradually decreasing. Similar to other carbon-intensive regions, a low-carbon transition entails more risks than opportunities according to regional stakeholders. Limited technical potential to deploy renewable power plants, poor air quality, regional dependence on traditional industries as well as limited financial resources pose significant challenges to the low-carbon transition in this Polish region. Let us not forget big politics behind the screen and politicians who have always played a key role in favouring or depreciating Polish mining and to whom coal is alternatively ‘black gold’, or ‘not everything that glitters is gold’. At present, Polish authorities seem to be a guardian angel of Polish coal as they perceive it as a natural and strategic resource and a guarantor of the Polish national interest. Perhaps, it is only a political gambit to hush down Polish miners’ discontent and their worrying about losing employment or benefits (after all promises to keep Polish mining safe and sound were made in 2015 during the election campaign). Yet, isn’t it a bit symptomatic that the Polish President stated adamantly that he will not allow the decline (actually, he used the verb “murder”) of Polish mining, and this statement is being made at the very same time COP24 in Katowice is being held?

So is a low-carbon transition of carbon-intensive regions feasible?

At first glance, the answer to the above question is affirmative, but it will take time to make it happen. From the very beginning reforms in the energy sector should be an essential part of a sustainable transition of coal-dependent regions where the costs may be high, especially in the short-term perspective. The reforms must be wide-ranging, based on a left-to-right political consensus and not biased against the coal sector. To have success in this bold and long-awaited endeavour, the future energy mix and corresponding technologies should be carefully designed, matched and should remain stable in the long-term. At the same time, the right incentives for the energy transition should be clear and acceptable for all stakeholders.

Looking at the future (because there must be one…)

The multi-stakeholder approach is widely promoted by the Paris Agreement and the European Union. The implementation of this policy line is supported by numerous international measures aimed at helping the countries to meet their obligations. These include mainly financing instruments targeted at the activities streamlining the low-carbon transition and the ones to relieve financial barriers of the process and to bring benefits to the society. According to the European Commission, the transition to clean energy in the European Union will require €177 billion in additional investment per year from 2021 onwards. If the right investments are not stimulated now, there is a risk of locked-in high-carbon infrastructure and stranded assets. Moreover, the cost of delaying this transition may be much higher that the costs of the transition itself.

How to step this path to success?

The path to success in the field of decarbonizing European regions deeply laced with coal seems to be bumpy with all its uncertainties and question marks, with dos and don’ts, with negotiations and settlements. The experience and mistakes made by many countries have proved that the energy mix and the technological transition should be designed and implemented on the basis of transparent and well-thought-out schemes and it should remain stable for long time. It is crucial to gain the willingness of the whole coal-based industry to actively participate in the transition with a prerequisite for success being a full political and social consensus over a coal-based regional transition. However, no matter how painful or backbreaking the process turns out to be, we owe this to young and future generations, to people like 16-year old Greta Thunberg, a worldwide known Swedish activist, who in one of her thought-provoking speeches on climate change and the detrimental influence of coal to the environment states that we (“we” read as adults, policy-makers, lobbyists, governments) are stealing our children’s future in front of these children’s eyes and it is a crisis which, if unsolvable on the basis of the existing system, should be managed and overcome by new rules embedded in a new system. Don’t we see that Greta has just thrown down a gauntlet? Should we feel chided or embarrassed by this young and climate-conscious person? The former may not be Greta’s intention but the latter for us to feel is definitely right. Once our cheeks lose the redness of embarrassment, we should stand up, pick up the gauntlet and act. Perhaps, no one will feel like a thief any more.

Halving energy demand from buildings: The impact of low consumption practices

Limiting global warming below 1.5 °C requires rapid decarbonization of energy systems. Reductions of energy demand have an important role to play in a sustainable energy transition. Here we explore the extent to which the emergence of low energy consuming practices, encompassing new behaviors and the adoption of more efficient technologies, could contribute to lowering energy demand and thereby to reducing CO2 emissions.

To this end, we design three detailed energy consumption profiles which could be adopted by individuals in current and future wealthy regions. To what extent does the setting of air conditioners to higher temperatures or the widespread use of efficient showerheads reduce the aggregate energy demand? We investigate the potential of new practices at the global level for 2050 and 2100.

The adoption of new, energy saving practices could reduce global energy demand from buildings by up to 47% in 2050 and 61% in 2100 compared to a scenario following current trends. This strong reduction is primarily accounted for by changes in hot water usage, insulation of buildings and consumer choices in air conditioners and heat pumps. New behaviors and efficient technologies could make a significant long-term contribution to reducing buildings’ energy demand, and thus facilitate the achieval of stringent climate change mitigation targets while limiting the adverse sustainability impacts from the energy supply system.

Written by Antoine Levesque, Robert C. Pietzcker and Gunnar Luderer

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No simple answer to carbon complexity

“These are the times that try men’s soul” wrote Thomas Paine in his famous pamphlet American Crisis in the heat of the American Revolution. These words well describe the present time too – in their broadest meaning. The political systems in the western world are under unprecedented pressure not witnessed since the dark times of the 1930’s.

But we also see the raise of a quite new kind of awareness among people and businesses on climate change. The public discourse on emissions has jumped to another level compared to just a few years ago. Our leaders are being challenged to move from just talking about the issue, to undertaking stronger measures to cut carbon emissions quickly.

At the same time, bottom-up popular movements are entering the political arena reflecting our political systems’ inability to adequately reflect on timely issues. However, they also reflect the failure of our politicians to equip the people with the tools and skills required to handle with wicked problems such as climate change.

The climate change movement is obviously getting stronger in several member states of the EU, and also resonated in the recent European Parliament elections. It may, however, still be too early to claim a coming leapfrog in climate policies due to the shifting political landscape in Europe, though all scientific evidence univocally speaks for its urgency.

But let’s make a ‘gedankenexperiment’ by assuming that in spite of all the uncertainties, Europe would soon make a shift towards a stricter climate policy. Instruments for emission cuts are in place (e.g. the price of emission allowances in ETS could be better regulated, among others). Scenario tools such as those used in the Horizon 2020 INNOPATHS project can help to construct least-cost technology trajectories to reach a zero-carbon energy sector in Europe. From a techno-economic point-of-view, we could well find a feasible deep decarbonization solution for Europe.

But would society be prepared for such a quick energy transition?  Deep decarbonization equates in practice to a huge technology disruption similar to the industrial revolution. It goes beyond the techno-economic realm. It involves profound social issues. It is essentially a social-technical transition in which institutions and business models supporting present technologies need to be changed to enable adoption of new clean technologies and practices.

Consumers also need to adapt and engage in new ways. How to deal with distributional effects? A change involves winners and losers. For example, a high carbon tax may sound like a perfect tool for cutting emissions as it forces those who pollute to pay and it could motivate the polluters to change their behaviours. But from a justice point of view, it could also legitimize those who can afford to pay to pollute (even more) and not to change their lifestyles, whereas those who cannot pay or afford non-polluting solutions, could face large challenges in their everyday lives. A just climate legislation would therefore strive for measures which treat each of us equally in relation to our capabilities.

There are multiple ways to frame the energy and climate problem1. Importantly, the way we frame it would also prioritize the values and factors against which we make our decisions, which in turn will shape the solutions. Personally, I would prefer to see the more fundamental factors being prioritized in any type of climate framing, namely the Science (laws of nature), the Planet (planetary boundaries), and the Ethics (universal values).

Though a lot of research has already been done on policy and social dimensions, also within the INNOPATHS project, the complexity of the issues involved is so profound that this would call for much stronger efforts for this area of research in the coming Horizon Europe R&D programme.

Thomas Paine ended his pamphlet with the words “…the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph”. For me his inspirational words sound in today’s terms more like where there’s a will, there’s a way – also in the quest of solving the carbon question.

1 Sun-Jin Yun, John Byrne, Lucy Baker, Patrick Bond, Goetz Kaufmann, Hans-Jochen Luhmann, Peter Lund, Joan Martinez-Alier, and Fuqiang Yang. 2018. Energy and Climate Change. In: Rethinking Environmentalism: Linking Justice, Sustainability, and Diversity, ed. S. Lele, E. S. Brondizio, J. Byrne, G. M. Mace, and J. Martinez-Alier. Strüngmann Forum Reports, vol. 23, J. Lupp, series editor. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2018 ISBN 9780262038966.