On the 7th March Jannik Giesekam presented at the annual Ecobuild conference at the London ExCel. This year’s conference focused on redefining sustainability in the built environment. Jannik presented in a session on ‘Carbon emissions in the built environment: Current status of emissions and activities’ alongside speakers from the Green Construction Board, M&S and Arup. Jannik’s talk was entitled ‘UK carbon emissions in design, construction and operation’ and the slides can be downloaded here.
Uncovering blind spots in urban carbon management: the role of consumption based carbon accounting in Bristol, UK
Kate Scott and John Barrett have co-authored a paper on “Uncovering blind spots in urban carbon management: the role of consumption-based carbon accounting in Bristol, UK” in Regional Environmental Change.
Read the full paper here.
On the 15th February CIEMAP researcher Jannik Giesekam participated in the Healthy Buildings Conference and Expo, organised by the Alliance for Sustainable Building Products (ASBP) and hosted by UCL. The conference focussed on how careful product selection can have a positive influence on occupant and planetary health. Expert speakers addressed current occupant health issues such as overheating, moisture and mould, and indoor air quality and explored how building products can exacerbate the problem or provide a solution. Jannik gave a presentation on the importance of low carbon, resource efficient building products in maintaining a healthy planet. Jannik also chaired a session on ‘Problem solving with healthy products’ and participated in a panel discussion answering the question ‘What do we need to do to increase the uptake of healthy products?’. All presentations from the day are available from the ASBP site.
Anne Owen publishes new book: Techniques for Evaluating the Differences in Multiregional Input-Output Databases
This book introduces the Eora, Global Trade Analysis Project (GTAP) and World Input-Output (WIOD) databases and provides detailed metadata on the data sources, database structures and construction techniques used to build each system. It offers a detailed account of how multi-regional input–output (MRIO) databases are used to calculate consumption-based accounts – guiding the reader through each mathematical step and explaining the associated equations. It demonstrates that different MRIO databases calculate different national level consumption-based CO2 accounts. If these results are to be used as evidence in climate policy-making, analysts need to be confident about the accuracy of the databases and understand why the results differ.
It carefully explains the mathematical equations behind each technique and provides a link to a repository where the reader can access specially prepared MATLAB functions associated with the techniques.
To make meaningful comparisons between the three MRIO databases, each is mapped to a consistent classification system comprising 40 countries and 17 sectors. Further, readers can access the aggregated databases using the link provided. The effect of this aggregation is shown to be minimal, so readers can be confident that the aggregated versions of each database reflect the full-sized versions.
The book concludes by making recommendations as to how future MRIO databases could be accurately and consistently constructed and how they should be used in policy-making in light of the findings.
Buy the book here.
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.
A new paper by Anne Owen, Paul Brockway, Marco Sakai and John Barrett explores energy consumption-based accounting in the UK. Read the full paper here.
Abstract: Increasing attention has been focussed on the use of consumption-based approaches to energy accounting via input-output (IO) methods. Of particular interest is the examination of energy supply-chains, given the associated risks from supply-chain issues, including availability shocks, taxes on fossil fuels and fluctuating energy prices. Using a multiregional IO (MRIO) database to calculate energy consumption-based accounts (CBA) allows analysts to both determine the quantity and source of energy embodied in products along the supply chain. However, it is recognised in the literature that there is uncertainty as to the most appropriate type of energy data that should be employed in an IO framework. Questions arise as to whether an energy extension vector should show where the energy was extracted or where it was used (burnt). In order to address this gap, we undertake the first empirical MRIO analysis of an energy CBA using both vectors. Our results show that both the energy-extracted and energy-used vectors produce similar estimates of the overall energy CBA for the UK—notably 45% higher than territorial energy requirements. However, at a more granular level, the results show that the type of vector that should be employed ultimately depends on the research question that is considered. For example, the energy-extracted vector reveals that just 20% of the UK’s energy CBA includes energy extracted within the UK, an issue that is upmost importance for energy security policy. At the other end, the energy- used vector allows for the attribution of actual energy use to industry sectors, thereby enabling a better understanding of sectoral efficiency gains. These findings are crucial for users and developers of MRIO databases who undertake energy CBA calculations. Since both vectors appear useful for different energy questions, the construction of robust and consistent energy-used and energy-extracted extension vectors as part of commonly-used MRIO model databases is encouraged.
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 (http://www.sustainablescientists.org/).
Homes as machines: Exploring expert and public imaginaries of low carbon housing futures in the United Kingdom
Catherine Cherry and Nick Pidgeon explore low carbon housing futures in the UK in the latest edition of Energy Research and Social Science. Read the full article here.
Low carbon housing policies embody visions of the future that shape and constrain current choices between different technological pathways. These socio-technical imaginaries include expectations around new ways of living and interacting with technology, with implications for everyday lives. This paper investigates existing expert visions of low carbon housing, and explores these futures with members of the public; utilising empirical data from policy documents, expert interviews and public focus groups. Two competing expert visions of low carbon housing were identified: Passivhaus and Smart Homes. Whilst portrayed as divergent futures, both visions aimed to ‘design out’ the role of occupants, achieving emissions reductions through changes to the built environment and maintaining current lifestyles; a position that was reinforced by an imagined public that was unable or unwilling to accept the need for lifestyle change. This construction of the public did not consider the complex personal and cultural dimensions that influenced public acceptability of future housing: specifically surrounding themes of comfort, control and security that arose within the focus groups. The tensions arising between expert and public imaginaries highlight the difficulties that may surround any transition towards a low carbon future and demonstrate the need to work with, rather than around, the public.
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: http://www.jannikgiesekam.co.uk/
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.
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.
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 (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons