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Changing how international policy organisations understand and manage environmental problems

Research by Professor Frank Geels has shaped significant transformations in how the European Environment Agency (EEA), the EU, and the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) approach policies concerning energy, decarbonisation, and biodiversity loss.

"Professor Geels…has been the most influential academic in the domain of sustainability transitions and technological innovation that we have worked with.”

(Executive Director of the European Environment Agency)

Developing a new framework to identify causes of persistent environmental problems

Environmental policy has traditionally been framed as an input-output problem, focusing on taxes and regulations as environmental policy instruments. However, the EAA recognised that this was insufficient for addressing long-term, structural issues that exacerbate environmental problems and global climate change.

Since 2012, Geels has conducted multiple studies demonstrating how 'social-technical transitions' are needed to address climate change. Socio-technical transitions are large-scale shifts in energy, food and transport systems, involving new technologies and changes in business models and infrastructures. Using these research insights, Geels has informed environmental policy focusing on energy consumption, food and transport systems, and developments in new technologies and infrastructures.

Informing policy recommendations at the European Environment Agency

From 2014 onwards, Geels has worked extensively with the EEA as a scientific advisory body designed to provide independent information on the environment to inform policymaking across EU member states.

The EEA has explicitly adopted Geels' socio-technical transition framework to frame the causes of persistent environmental problems, such as biodiversity loss and resource scarcity. The 2014 EEA work programme 'Expanding the Knowledge Base for Policy Implementation and Long-term Transitions' used Geels' socio-technical systems research to argue the need to focus on large-scale transitions. The work programme was significant because it set out the EEA's vision and plan for providing timely, targeted, relevant, and reliable information to policymaking agents across member states.

Informing the European Green Deal

Geels' research informed the EEA's Policy and Practice report (2019) on sustainability transitions with participation from multiple European Commission departments, including the departments of Environment, Climate Action, Research and Innovation, Regional and Urban Policy, Agriculture and Rural Development, and Mobility and Transport.

This report fed into discussions about the European Green Deal, an ambitious set of policy initiatives by the European Commission which aims to make the EU carbon neutral by 2050 across buildings, agri-food, energy, and mobility systems.

Informing the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)

Geels' research has also had a pivotal influence on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a body of the United Nations that provides evidence-based advice to governments and citizens to help society tackle global climate change.

Geels gave a keynote talk in 2016 at the scoping meeting of the IPCC for the Special Report on 1.5 degree C global warming. The corresponding IPCC report, Global warming of 1.50C (2018), was strongly framed in social-technical transition terms, citing Geels numerous times and drawing on his publications.

The IPCC report argued that limiting climate change to 1.50C will require deep and rapid transitions in several systems (energy, land-use, cities, transport, and industry). The report received global coverage in the media with The New York Times described it as a “landmark” report.


In summary, Geels’ research has played a major role in informing EEA policy suggestions concerning innovation, finance, and broader governance challenges. It has also underpinned discussions about the European Green Deal, aiming to make the EU carbon neutral by 2050. And it has contributed to IPCC Assessment reports that feed into the international climate change negotiations.

Further reading:

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