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A Low Carbon Society

Looking ahead to the outcomes of COP21, the role of the industrial sector, and the benefits of sustainable development with professor Lars J. Nilsson.
Lars J. Nilsson. Photo: Kennet Ruona
Lars J. Nilsson. Photo: Kennet Ruona

Though it is unclear what outcomes the climate change negotiations in Paris will produce, it is apparent that swift international action is needed. Increasing efforts to make sustainable development, clean energy transition, and decarbonisation cheaper, easier, and faster will be an important task in the coming years.

“Sustainable development does not have to be costly or painful, it can even be enjoyable,” says author, researcher, and Professor Lars J. Nilsson. Lars is presently a Professor in the Environmental and Energy Systems Studies programme in the Department of Technology and Society at Lund University.

Lars also mentions that fossil fuel assets will likely decrease in value if we succeed in meeting the target of keeping the global temperature increase below 2 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels. In order to reach this 2 degrees goal, less focus on labeling and dividing countries by their development statuses may also help facilitate international teamwork and create a more structured system for measuring, reviewing, and verifying emission reduction efforts.

“An agreement on how to monitor, review, and revise INDCs and emission reduction efforts would be a valuable outcome of COP21,” adds Nilsson. Reorienting the direction of societies and energy systems, along with emphasis on the benefits and co-benefits of a more sustainable direction, will be instrumental.

The issue of climate change has broadened from a simple pollution problem into a challenge of how we can develop society to become more sustainable. Climate change mitigation has some clear benefits, but it also has co-benefits which are often less visible. Better urban transport through increased fuel efficiency, new fuel sources, electric transport, and increased public transport could produce co-benefits including improved air and water quality, reduction of noise, and increased safety. “Sustainable urban transportation strategies turn greenhouse gas emission reductions into a co-benefit, while improved safety, health, convenience, and reduced traffic congestion become the direct benefits,” states Lars.

Lars has researched energy systems, policy analysis, and transportation and has worked for the IPCC, IEA, and the Lets 2050 report for energy and transport sectors. The energy, heating, and building sectors have been largely decarbonised in Sweden. Sweden has started to decarbonize the transportation sector as well, but the industry sector has been somewhat ignored. Most energy in industry is used for very energy intensive processes.

“This might require new technology or innovation for reducing energy needed for the production processes themselves, as well as switching to renewable energy through electrification,” adds Nilsson. “With the post-COP21 climate change regime, the industrial sector may be more pressured to participate in pledge and review efforts to combat climate change.”

Lars is currently assisting in writing Innovation Agenda Proposals for the electricity-based economy. He adds that society needs three somewhat scarce resources, which simply put are metals, minerals, and organic materials. Keeping that in mind, Lars states, “Energy is not scarce. Solar energy, and other renewable resources, can be the engine that drives the circular economy and resource efficient society of the future.”

Radical lifestyle changes may not be necessary in order to spread a good average standard of living, while at the same time becoming a more sustainable society. The broad array of climate change issues and methods of solving them will also depend greatly on their context, location, and urgency. “You have to deal with them in an integrated way. You cannot single out one problem without considering the others,” says Nilsson. Implementing broad climate change prevention strategies in the energy, transportation, and industrial sectors is a challenge, but overcoming this challenge will bring many benefits in the future.

Text: Jack Fraser

 

Meet the researchers - Reflections on COP 21

King George Island, Antarctica. UN Photo/Eskinder
King George Island, Antarctica. UN Photo/Eskinder

Read interviews by the Sustainability Forum journalist Jack Fraser, also a master student at iiiee, The Environmental Institute at Lund University.

He has met researchers from Lund University with different expert views on COP21 issues in Paris 2015.

Read all the interviews

LETS 2050

LETS 2050 Report

Governing Transitions to Low Carbon Energy and Transport Systems

Near zero emissions by 2050 in industrialised countries, required for staying below the two-degree target, is a challenging but also liberating thought. It may first seem like an impossible task. But a growing number of studies show that such a transition is possible from a resource and technology point of view, as well as economically feasible.

The LETS program on Governing Transitions to Low Carbon Energy and Transport Systems takes this as a starting point for exploring the policy and governance challenges that may be associated with making a low carbon transition.

The report as a pdf: Let’s 2050

Contact information

E-mail: lars_j.nilsson [at] miljo.lth.se

Telephone:+46 46 222 46 83

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