Meet the researchers: Greening the Economy
As an Associate Professor at Lund University (iiiee), Luis Mundaca focuses on environmental economics, policy analysis, and low-carbon development. In addition to being a teacher and researcher, Luis has also worked on major international scientific initiatives, such as the Fifth IPCC Assessment Report on Climate Change Mitigation (Working Group III), and the Global Energy Assessment.
Comparing COP21 to past climate negotiations
Luis expects some fundamental challenges at COP21, but states that, “Compared to the Kyoto Protocol, and relatively speaking, the outcomes from the Paris meetings are likely to be more promising in regard to the number of participating countries and the amount of emissions covered.”
So far over 140 countries have submitted emission reduction pledges, covering nearly 90% of global emissions. “This is more than three times the number of countries with reduction targets contained in the Kyoto Protocol, which covered approximately 55% of global emissions.” After the failure in Copenhagen, Luis also predicts that the “pledge-and-review” system is very likely to be consolidated during COP21.
Challenges in Paris and beyond
However, he argues, that there will be paramount challenges during and after the COP21. “These include creating a robust agreement out of these voluntary pledges, creating an ambitious policy framework for effective implementation and review, and creating a reliable and sustainable funding mechanism.” Luis explains that “A careful reading of all of these voluntary pledges reveals that 20-30% of emission reductions are heavily dependent on financial assistance from richer countries.”
At present, submitted pledges (or INDCs) are not in line with a 2°C mitigation scenario that is estimated to prevent dangerous climate impacts according to the IPCC assessments, “And forming a legally binding agreement is very unlikely to happen in Paris, so policy trade-offs and political compromises are inevitable” states Luis. The success of pledges also relies heavily on the design and implementation of effective policies and measures to support emission reductions and low-carbon development “Thus, Paris should only be taken as the departure point for ambitious policy efforts at the local, regional, national and global level” says Luis.
Some topics that Luis hopes gain recognition in Paris include finance, behavior-oriented policies, and CO2 budgeting. “New financial resources and aligning current resources with climate-related issues, such as divesting from fossil fuels and related subsidies, will be important if we are serious about climate and development,” states Luis. “Behavior-oriented policies have also been largely unexplored, and have to complement technology-oriented policies as well.”
Carbon budgeting is another concept that Luis hopes will be integrated at the negotiations. “Some figures from the IPCC Synthesis Report and a back-of-the-envelope calculation suggest that if we are serious about a 2°C mitigation scenario, the remaining carbon budget requires the full decarbonization of our energy-economy system much sooner than previously thought – before 2050,” adds Luis. He states that “This is a very serious challenge, but the positive view of this is that the economic benefits of both mitigation and adaptation are becoming greater because the costs and risks of inaction are also increasing,” Luis concludes.
New research findings fill in knowledge gaps
Luis and colleagues recently finished a large policy evaluation project, titled Policy intervention for a competitive green energy economy. This research project analysed global trends and policy developments in numerous regions and countries, and assessed critical aspects of policies such as job creation, economic output, CO2 emissions and energy intensity. “The overall conclusion is that greater ambition, finance, cooperation, and policy integration are needed to drive a serious transformation,” states Luis.
A new project of Luis’ aims to fill in a major knowledge gap regarding behavioral economics for the design of energy and climate policies. “Early results show that people alter behavior due to tangible risks or negative financial impacts. This is because humans often feel the benefits of a gain less intensively than the costs of a loss,” explains Luis. “The research suggests that the simple provision of information to market agents is not enough to trigger societal change, and that policies need to acknowledge how information is designed, framed, and also presented.”
The importance of cities in low-carbon development
With cities rapidly growing, exceeding carrying capacities, and relying on vast amounts of natural resources and fossil fuels, they are posing a huge challenge. Thankfully, there are many opportunities for creating a more sustainable urban future. “For example, decentralized renewable energy systems, smart grids, ambitious efficiency standards, and zero emission buildings can deliver multiple sustainability benefits” states Luis.
He also adds that “Building renovation in rich countries, stringent building codes in developing countries, and effective enforcement are also important solutions. Clever and integrated urban design, local food production, and low-carbon transport should be a must for any city in the future.” Luis stresses that “higher density and compact building development also need more attention, especially in sprawling cities.”
Necessities for paving a sustainable future
It is apparent that we face serious challenges and that this is requiring many changes now and in the coming years, regarding how we build and manage urban areas and how climate-related policies are designed and implemented. “With a plethora of policy instruments, resources and current technologies at our disposal to drive sustainable development, it is now fundamentally important to align and commit behavioral change, strong financial system and high political ambitions,” concludes Luis. “It is challenging, but not impossible.”
Text: Jack Fraser