Can energy efficiency deliver on its promises?

Original article here.

Energy efficiency is often seen as a win-win: falling energy use benefits consumers and the environment, whilst it also allows the economy to grow. However, our recent research into energy rebound or ‘take back’ (when energy efficiency can be cancelled out by changes in people’s behaviour) suggests it may hamper the effectiveness of policy aimed at reducing energy use and its associated carbon emissions.

Why we need more policy ‘headroom’
Climate change is rightly seen as the biggest threat to our planet. Since energy related CO2 emissions are 80 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, a significant policy effort has been focused on reducing energy use and decarbonising energy supply. The problem of energy rebound has been known since Jevons highlighted it over 150 years ago, when he suggested that energy efficiency may increase – not decrease – energy use.

Our research estimated the size of overall national level rebound for the UK and, in line with other studies, we found evidence for a partial rebound effect: where only around 70 per cent of planned savings actually occur.

Some might wonder if this means we should abandon efficiency as part of the solution.  The short answer is no. Instead, we should remember that energy efficiency policies are still working, just not quite as well as we hoped. The way to address rebound in this case is to build in sufficient policy ‘headroom’, increasing energy efficiency targets to allow for predicted energy take back via rebound.

What about the industrialising world?
We also looked at the case of China, and found evidence for possible ‘backfire’, where energy use is actually higher than before energy efficiency technologies were introduced. Why is this so? It suggests that larger rebounds occur in industrialising countries (the UK in Jevons’ time), as efficiency accelerates the cycle of lowering the cost of production, thereby increasing production, and further reducing costs.

So is rebound in this case a bad thing? Again, no. Energy efficiency was done for economic reasons long before we knew about climate change. Helping to lower the cost of energy services has had wide social benefits in the spread of lighting, transport, heating etc, greatly improving quality of life for millions across the globe. But now those benefits need to be balanced against the need to cut CO2 emissions.

The presence of backfire suggests a different response to the policy headroom suggested for the UK. If we think of renewables and energy efficiency as two policy dials, then, if the energy efficiency dial isn’t working to reduce energy demand due to backfire, the renewables dial should be turned up to compensate and ensure we can keep global warming within target limits.

Renewables ‘rebound’ is a good thing
If renewables are undercutting fossil-based power, won’t their cheaper price lead to something akin to rebound too? Perhaps, but an increase in energy use due to falling renewables prices may (in contrast to energy efficiency induced rebound) be beneficial for cutting climate change emissions, if it lowers the cost of renewables further and accelerates the displacement of fossil fuels with cheaper, clean energy.

Rebound gets a lot of interest from policy contrarians, and our research suggests that it’s a significant challenge for rapidly industrialising countries. But energy efficiency has improved lives across the world and its benefits outweigh the drawbacks. Rather than allowing rebound to cast doubt on the policy, we just need to better understand the scale of rebound, and respond appropriately: by building headroom into our energy efficiency policies in the UK and speeding up the renewables transition to deal with backfire.

This post is by Paul Brockway, research fellow at the University of Leeds. He examines roles and relationships between energy, economy and society  as part of UKERC’s research programme.

Kate Scott attended a Science for Sustainable Development Early-Career Leaders Day

Dr Kate Scott, Research Fellow in the Sustainability Research Institute and inaugural Priestley Centre Piers Seller prize winner,  was recently selected to attend Science for Sustainable Development Early-career Leaders Day. In this blog Kate shares her experience.

The Network of Early-Career Sustainable Scientists and Engineers (NESSE) teamed up with the UK Collaborative on Development Sciences (UKCDS),  Royal Society of Chemistry, and British Council to organise a Science for Sustainable Development Early-Career Leaders Day on the 2nd of December in London. Researchers across a range of disciplines met to share ideas, build connections with other young leaders, and discuss how to contribute to achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) through a facilitated workshop.

Guido Schmidt-Traib, the Executive Director of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, opened with a talk inspiring us, as scientists, to think creatively about the challenges ahead. The SDGs are to be implemented universally and provide a framework with the aim to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all – not an easy task. The SDGs comprise of 17 goals and 169 associated targets, for example to eradicate poverty, provide quality education for all, and implement affordable and clean energy.

We set to work in small groups, with a deliberate disciplinary mix, to develop a collaborative 3 year funding proposal to contribute to at least one of the SDGs. We were encouraged to develop a solution-focused research approach, to identify our target audience and to think about how to engage with them throughout the course of the project. We were to build on the expertise and strengths of our working group.

In just 3 hours, my group had developed an ambitious 3 year proposal to create sustainable and resilient agricultural communities in rural Indonesia, a topic quite far from my research on climate mitigation policy in the UK. We set out to investigate and find solutions for (1) the social sustainability of agriculture in Indonesia, which is dominated by Multi-national Corporation’s production of palm oil; (2) the environmental impacts of different agricultural practices, which are currently depleting the areas forests and biodiversity; and (3) the economic sustainability of business practices in the region and opportunities to diversify community income. Through discussion we were able to identify how our different strengths and skills could be put to practice. I research the environmental and social impacts of global supply chains and could look at the global implications of unsustainable production processes, the social imbalances among producers and consumers, and the potential risks to business supply chains. Everyone in the group was able to contribute, and it was a definite strength of our proposal.

Whilst a challenge, there was definitely momentum for truly interdisciplinary research that shows a clear route to having impact on the ground. It needs researchers to be proactive and get out and talk to people, even when the connection might not be so obvious. In 20 years’ time the research landscape could look quite different than today’s. It is likely that more priority will be placed on interdisciplinary approaches to problem solving, and there was support for more emphasis to be placed on research impact compared to a publication benchmark. As Early Career Researchers we can help shape this.

If you would like to find out more about how to get involved see NESSE’s website (

Jannik Giesekam completes series of talks to UK Industry experts

Jannik Giesekam has recently completed a series of talks to UK Industry experts focused on low carbon construction in the UK.

On Thursday 10th November he presented at a Construction Climate Challenge seminar on the topic of ‘Reducing Carbon in Infrastructure Construction‘. Watch the video of Jannik’s talk, ‘Where is the carbon in construction?‘. You can also view the slides from Jannik’s talk here: where-is-the-carbon-in-construction.

On Tuesday 29th November he presented at the annual Carbon Crunch event at the Institution of Civil Engineers in London. This event is the annual follow up to the Infrastructure Carbon Review. Jannik’s presentation focused on building-on-the-paris-agreement (The role of low carbon construction in the UK) and other speakers at the event included representatives from National Grid, Yorkshire Water, Costain, BSI, Mott MacDonald and the Infrastructure Client Group.

And then on Wednesday 30th November he presented at a CIRIA event on ‘Innovative paths to low carbon infrastructure‘. This talk dealt with barriers-to-low-carbon-innovation. Other speakers at this event included Highways England, London Underground, Crossrail, and Anglian Water.

You can find more of Jannik Giesekam’s work on his website here:


Whose emissions are they anyway?

Original Article Here.

Dr Marco Sakai, Dr Kate Scott and Prof John Barrett of the CIE-MAP Centre argue that measuring carbon emissions by consumption rather than production would more accurately and fairly allocate responsibility for meeting climate change targets.

Measuring emissions

As the COP22 UN Climate Change conference drew to a close in Morocco last week, many of the world’s nations were reinforcing their commitment to mitigating climate change and attempting to meet global emissions targets. To honour these pledges, countries must have accurate ways of measuring what their emissions are and how they are decreasing or increasing. Moreover, the question of who is ultimately responsible for the emissions (regardless of where they happen geographically) has continued to be a contested issue that has proved difficult to bring into the negotiations.

This is a complex technical and political issue. The question of what is the most appropriate means of measuring emissions has been debated for as long as there have been targets. While the UN community of nations recognises the common responsibility to address climate change, there is of course a huge variety in the extent and ability to cut emissions in different countries across the world. The issue of whether developing nations should be expected to reduce emissions at the same rate as developed nations – as the former strive to ‘catch up’ – is also a major debate. As the extent of action needed to reduce climate change has become apparent, the Paris Agreement has broadened the scope by including developing nations. Thus, all nations are expected to address their emissions irrespective of country classifications.

This area is a major focus of the Centre for Industrial Energy, Materials and Products (CIE-MAP). In a recent paper, they have explored the possibilities of changing the way emissions are accounted for.

Production-based vs consumption-based accounting

Internationally, responsibility for reducing greenhouse gas emissions is normally measured according to a production-based (PB) accounting approach. This method focusses on greenhouse gases emitted within the borders of a particular country. However, this approach does not account for emissions created by demand for products from other countries. For example, if a shipment of plastic toys is produced in China to meet demand in the UK, the environmental impact of the production and shipping process is created by UK importers and consumers. So with PB accounting some of the environmental impact of the consumer nation can be hidden from the figures.

Given the complexity of the global economy, researchers argue that other methods must be explored. With consumption-based (CB) accounting all the emissions that occurred in the course of production and distribution to the final consumers of goods and services are considered, and would be allocated to the consumer country.

The future of carbon accounting?

Many experts favour a switch to CB accounting, as it would change the dynamics of how we look at the problem and shift accountability. With 20-25% of overall CO2 emissions created from the production of internationally traded products, more responsibility would be placed on the importers (consumers) than the exporters. As developed countries tend to import more and developing countries export more, the onus would be placed on the developed nations to reduce the emissions created by their demand for products from exporters. This would in turn mean that the importing countries would need to address their policies regarding reducing consumer demand and reducing internal emissions to offset the higher burden. They may also seek to influence the production and transportation processes of their suppliers in the developing world.

There are arguments for and against switching to CB accounting (or creating a blend of different methods) and it is a highly complicated and technical issue – which is covered in much more detail in our paper. But in this brief overview we can see that in the global effort to mitigate climate change, it is important to locate the root causes of CO2 emissions in order to address the problem most effectively. We conclude that a complete redesign of the international climate change regime in favour of CB accounting seems unlikely at this stage. Yet, we believe that mandatory reporting of CB emissions should be encouraged. This would allow the international community to design effective policies and tools to mitigate emissions embodied in trade.

Further reading

Afionis, S., Sakai, M., Scott, K., Barrett, J. and Gouldson, A. (2016) Consumption-based carbon accounting: does it have a future? WIRE Climate Change Journal

Dr Marco Sakai, Dr Kate Scott and Prof John Barrett are based at the Centre for Industrial Energy, Materials and Products (CIE-MAP) at the School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds. CIE-MAP is one of six RCUK End Use Energy Demand Centres

Photo credit: By Wmeinhart [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

CIE-MAP research informs Government Industrial Strategy

On October 27th CIEMAP took a lead role at an event bringing together industry, trade associations, academics, and policy stakeholders to feed into BEIS’s industrial strategy.

This event – held at the BEIS conference centre – aimed to highlight the necessity of building the circular economy (reuse, recycle, repair, durability) into the UK’s future industrial plans in order to meet COP21 greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions targets. This will be a challenging process but also offers the opportunity for the UK to become a world leader in new industrial practices.

The work will feed into the practical plans needed to enact the findings of the 2050 Industrial Roadmaps, (which were published in 2015 and gave recommendations for reducing GHG targets in the eight most energy intensive industries in the UK (iron and steel; chemicals; oil refining; food and drink; pulp and paper; cement; glass; ceramics)

The contributors

The delegates heard from Niall Mackenzie, Director of Infrastructure and Materials (BEIS) who confirmed that outcomes of the conference would be fed into a green paper for the Autumn statement (23/11/16) and a white paper for next year’s budget laying out the government’s industrial strategy. The group also heard the positions of BEIS and Defra on the Industrial Roadmaps and the circular economy from Charlie Lewis, Head of Industrial Decarbonisation and Energy Efficiency (BEIS), and Arjan Geveke, Assistant Director of Energy Policy (BEIS).

The CIE-MAP presentation focused on the need to build the circular economy into energy intensive industries and the opportunities it provides. CIE-MAP argues that more emphasis needs to be placed on looking across the whole supply chain to lifecycle analysis, product design, and recycling products and materials.

The big questions

The remainder of the day was spent with the different stakeholders – including Prof Geoff Hammond of the Bath CIE-MAP team – discussing the big questions facing energy intensive industries in relation to the circular economy:

1) how lifecycle thinking in energy intensive industries can be accelerated and embedded

2) how products can be designed to be more durable and recyclable

3) how management can structure businesses to realise energy and material efficiency

4) how these industries can work with government to reduce GHG emissions in an increasingly global supply chain

5) how government can help these industries move up the value chain.

The event is an example of the EUED Centres’ work with government and industry colleagues to use research to help build practical solutions to major UK and global energy issues.

NTU announce forthcoming PLATE Seminar 2016

Tuesday 6 December, Newton Building, Nottingham Trent University, City Campus

We are delighted to announce a forthcoming PLATE (Product Lifetimes and the Environment) seminar. This event will give you the opportunity to find out about the latest developments in policy and practice on product lifetimes, planned obsolescence, reuse, and repair.

The aim of the event is to discuss innovative and ground breaking approaches to product longevity, set within the policy and civil context of the UK and EU. Our excellent keynote speakers include an entrepreneur, a representative from the European Commission and two leading researchers:

  • Tara Button (
  • Dr Carlos Montalvo (TNO, Netherlands)
  • Dr Ines Oehme (Federal Environment Agency, Germany)
  • Ferenc Pekár (DG Environment)

The seminar will build on the success of the first PLATE Conference, held at NTU in 2015, and announce plans for the second international PLATE Conference, which will take place in November 2017.

Download a copy of the programme.

This seminar is open to the public, staff and students. There is a booking fee associated with this seminar:

  • £50 (including VAT): Staff and general public.
  • £25 (including VAT): Student (Student ID will be required on arrival at event).

Visit the NTU Online Store to make your booking using either a credit or debit card.

If you have an enquiry about this event, please email us or call Dr Christine Cole on +44 (0)115 848 6011.

Kyungeun Sung attends Research on Sustainable Development Summer School

The PhD Research on Sustainable Development Summer School was held at the University of Basel in Basel, Switzerland from the 18th to the 22nd of July.

It was organised by Dr. Marius Christen, Prof. Dr. Frank Krysiak, Prof. Dr. Patricia Holm, and Prof. Dr. Paul Burger.

Presentations were given by Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Buchholz from the University of Resensburg in economics, Prof. Dr. Konrad Steffen from Swiss Federal Research Institute WSL in natural sciences, and Prof. Dr. Susan Baker from Cardiff University in social sciences.

Kyungeun Sung presented her PhD research on Sustainable production and consumption by upcycling: Understanding and scaling up niche environmentally significant behaviour and contributed to the discussions on various conceptions of sustainability and sustainable development in different disciplines.

CIE-MAP participates in Exergy Economics Workshop 2016

Over 40 economists, engineers and social scientists converged last week on the sunny University of Sussex campus for the second International Exergy Economics Workshop. Organised by the Centre on Innovation and Energy Demand (CIED) and the Centre for Industrial Energy, Materials and Products (CIE-MAP), the workshop was a chance for researchers to come together to share knowledge, discuss progress, and initiate future research collaborations in exergy economics.

Read Jack Miller’s full blog here.

Anne Owen attends Input-Output conference in Seoul, Korea

The 24th International Input-Output Conference was held at the Yonsei University in Seoul, South Korea this year between the 4th and 8th of July.

Yonsei University in Seoul:


Input-output is a macro-economic technique used by CIEMAP researchers to calculate the consumption-based account of the UK and it allows us to understand the effect of demand on energy and materials use. This year, Anne presented two research papers, based on CIEMAP research. The first explored how the UK’s energy footprint differs when we use different system boundaries to describe the energy impact of industries. Assigning the energy information to the extraction industries may be a better technique for research on energy security. However, to explore energy efficiency and energy substitution policy, energy should be assigned to the industries where it is ultimately used. Anne’s second paper presented a technique to explore the food, energy water nexus by comparing product supply-chains. Anne identified the common supply chains which were large within the biomass, energy and water consumption-based accounts and also determined the value to the world economy and the number of jobs that were dependent on these chains. Both papers were received well and Anne has a number of ideas as to how to further improve the research.

Anne at the conference venue:


The input-output conference can be quite technical in nature, but these year featured a number of presentations themed around using the technique to explore societal and political research questions. For example, Prof. Geoff Hewings posed the question ‘What about the people in input-output?’ and challenged the community to further explore the role of consumption in IO calculations. He stated that households are diverse in nature and this needs to be captured in our work. For example, the spending patterns will differ vastly between older and younger households and this differing type of demand drives the need for jobs in different sectors. Keynote speaker Prof. Klaus Hubacek explored this theme further by demonstrating how expenditure profiles of differing household groups in Chicago can be used to calculate the carbon footprint of neighbourhoods. Brexit was a hot topic of conversation throughout the conference and Prof. Bart Los introduced the newest version of the World Input-Output Database (WIOD), which operates at NUTS2 level of administrative unit, by demonstrating that the regions of the UK that were most dependent on European trade were also those that voted to leave!

Chart 1 - Eurozone non performing

World Input-Output Database, University of Groningen,, 2010 data; Nick Vivyan and Chris Hanretty, ‘Estimating Constituency Opinion’,, 2014 data


Seoul is a modern and exciting city and the contrast between the old and new is striking at times. Gyeongbokgung Palace gate with city in background:


Roof detail at the Gyeongbokgung Palace:


National Museum:

national museum

Next year the conference venue is Atlantic City, USA, which promises to be a very different and interesting experience!

Kate Scott wins Piers Sellers Prize for Climate Change Research

The first winners of the Piers Sellers Prizes for outstanding research in climate science have been announced.

In honour of Dr Sellers’ work as a renowned climate scientist and in raising public awareness of global warming, the Priestley Centre has created two annual prizes in his name to recognise outstanding research in the field.

The Piers Sellers Prize for ‘Exceptional PhD Research’ is designed to reward and encourage current University of Leeds PhD students for undertaking excellent research to better understand or address climate change. The second prize, for ‘World leading contribution to solution-focused climate research’, is open to all researchers world-wide at any stage of their career.

The first winner of the Piers Sellers Prize for ‘Exceptional PhD Research’ is Kate Scott from the University’s School of Earth and Environment.

In her research, Scott seeks to understand how environmental policies, consumption-side measures and industrial policies can be used to best effect in mitigating climate change. Her research has been integrated into assessments of evidence by the Committee on Climate Change (an independent body that reports to Parliament on progress made in reducing greenhouse gas emissions) and has been presented to various Government departments.

The Piers Sellers Prize for ‘World leading contribution to solution-focused climate research’ is awarded to Dr Joeri Rogelj, a research scholar at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), Austria. Both Prizes were awarded at the official launch of the Priestley Centre by Sir Alan Langlands.

Dr Rogelj’s research examines workable mitigation solutions and the effects of staying below different global temperature targets.  He was the only researcher before the United Nation’s climate change talks held in Paris in late 2015 – the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) conference – to be actively publishing on how to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C.  His work played a central role in forming the evidence base behind the Paris Agreement.

Read more about the Piers Sellers Prizes.

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