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Responses to climate change gaining real traction, says leading AMBS academic

The ball has “finally started rolling” and businesses are beginning to confront the huge challenges posed by climate change, says a leading AMBS academic in the field of sustainability.

Professor Frank Geels, the Eddie Davies Professor of Sustainability Transitions at AMBS, has written extensively on the importance of system transitions for sustainable development, and his work is regularly cited by international policymakers.

He says we have now entered a new era where low-carbon transitions are accelerating in electricity and (auto)mobility, leading to new security and economic concerns. “We are in the midst of a global innovation race and there is increasing pressure on organisations to do something. At the same time there is rising demand from policymakers for answers too.”

Big government

Professor Geels says that big government intervention is back after several decades of neo-liberalism and ‘small state’ ideology. “Whether it’s the response we saw from governments to the pandemic, or how they dealt with high gas prices, or how they are responding to increased security concerns today, we see the return of the state.

“At the same time, states are waking up to the fact that China dominates low-carbon manufacturing in most technology areas, while it is also leading in the deployment of electric vehicles and renewable energy. This realisation led the US to introduce the Inflation Reduction Act and Europe to introduce the Net Zero Industry Act. These support packages further accelerate low-carbon transitions because the amount of money involved is transformative, especially in the US.”

He adds that businesses, which used to be reluctant to address climate change mitigation, now also want to be on the front foot. “Organisations want to move on and reduce risk. Ironically it is now on the societal side where you see pushback against green technologies, such as heat pumps and electric vehicles, for reasons of affordability, but also because of right-wing populist discourses. To improve societal acceptance, governments will have to consider providing more subsidies to lower income households.”

New book and interest from the European Commission and World Bank

Professor Geels is widely known in academic and policy circles for his work on the Multi-Level Perspective (MLP), which conceptualises transition dynamics using insights from evolutionary economics, innovation studies, institutional theory, and political science.

He says there is growing interest in the MLP model and this summer he is publishing a new book entitled Advanced Introduction to Sustainability Transitions aimed at non-expert academics, students, and practitioners.

He has also been invited by DG Research & Innovation from the European Commission to write a Reflection paper on innovation policy in their next framework programme, and has also been asked by the World Bank to contribute to a project by the Coalition for Capacity on Climate Action, which has been created by finance ministries from several countries to enhance their analytical capacity with regard to low-carbon transitions.

As he adds: “The underlying idea is that the current conceptual frameworks and analytical tools of finance ministries (which are based on equilibrium models) are not suitable for low-carbon transitions because these are structural change processes that will alter the shape of economies and the competitiveness of countries and world regions like China, the US, and the EU.”

World in Harmony

Professor Geels also recently gave a talk for Hitachi which was making an educational video with the University of Tokyo on how the world is transgressing planetary boundaries and how sustainability transitions can offer a solution strategy.

In the film Toward a World in Harmony with Nature: The Planetary Boundaries and the Sustainability Transitions in Japan he talks about his work on transitions, including the MLP. “It’s extremely rewarding that major global companies are appreciating my work and helping to disseminate it,” he adds.

Watch a video of Frank's Hitachi talk >>

Professor Geels will be giving his inaugural lecture as Eddie Davies Chair at Alliance Manchester Business School on Wednesday 1 May. Book your place >>