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Academic’s report launched at major climate change conference

The report, Accelerating the Low Carbon Transition: The Case for Stronger, More Targeted and Coordinated International Action, was commissioned by the UK Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy and supported by the Energy Transitions Commission.

The report brings together a historical understanding of how technology transitions happen (such as from horses to cars, or from wells to piped water); lessons from the experience of international cooperation in security, trade and environment; and practical knowledge of the sectors that must be decarbonised. 

It identifies points of leverage for coordinated international action to accelerate low carbon transitions in ten of the highest emitting sectors, and highlights the urgent need for institutions that can support such cooperation to be strengthened. In comparison with previous reports, what is new is a focus on the processes of change, rather than on the end goal. 

The key messages of the report include:

*Stopping emissions requires fundamental innovation, rapid diffusion of new technologies, and the reshaping of markets and socioeconomic systems. This requires actions far beyond simply putting a price on carbon or adopting bold emissions goals. A more targeted, hands-on and strategic approach to policymaking is required to reconfigure the technologies, business models, infrastructure and markets in each of the greenhouse gas-emitting economic sectors.

*It is within economic sectors or systems that new technologies can be created and diffused eventually to reshape the social and economic activities of which they are a part. This process depends on the actions of policymakers, firms, consumers and civil society actors who, in today’s economy, are connected globally. Coordinated international action, appropriate to the phase of the transition, can accelerate this process by identifying viable technologies more quickly, by increasing incentives for investment and economies of scale, and by levelling playing fields so that first-movers are not held back by the constraints of competitiveness.

The report says much more effort is needed to convene the key players in each sector in order for the goals of the UN’s Paris Agreement to be met. Alongside the policy actions for decarbonisation, a strategic commitment to institution-building is therefore the single most important activity that can be undertaken by any government wishing to lead the global response to climate change.

Influence

Professor Geels also recently contributed to a landmark report on the state of Europe’s environment which featured a whole chapter drawing on his work around how societies can transition towards more sustainable futures.

He has worked extensively with the European Environment Agency (EEA) and last week it published its latest five-yearly State of the Environment Report (SOER) which features a whole chapter on sustainability transitions in mobility, energy, and food systems, and which uses Geels’s theoretical framework (the so-called Multi-Level Perspective) as an organising framework.

SOER 2020 provided a stark snapshot of where the continent stands in meeting 2020 and 2030 policy targets, as well as longer term 2050 goals and ambitions to shift to a sustainable, low carbon future.

It says Europe faces environmental challenges of “unprecedented scale and urgency” and that it will not achieve its 2030 goals without urgent action over the next decade to address the alarming rate of biodiversity loss, increasing impacts of climate change, and the overconsumption of natural resources. You can read the full EEA report here.

*Read also about Professor Geels’ work in the latest issue of the Alliance Manchester Business School research magazine here.