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Approaches to a post-COP21 world

Lund University Professor and Researcher Kim Nicholas shows how we can re-connect with land through urban food forestry, making smart food choices, and reducing travel in a post-COP21 world.
Capay Valley, Northern California

International Negotiations and the Future
Kimberly Nicholas

Regardless of the COP21 outcomes, the spotlight on climate change issues that the negotiations provide is beneficial. “Countries representing over 90% of emissions have stepped up to with national climate pledges, showing a global commitment to reduce climate change emissions, which is a good thing for the 21st century,” begins Kim. Still, if a concrete climate agreement is not formed at COP21, she argues that should not serve as a reason to stop or reduce efforts to combat climate change. “It can be difficult to get such a diverse world to agree on anything, especially with slow-moving international processes. But in that light, the modest progress made to date is impressive,” comments Kim.

While the road to the Paris negotiation has been important, Kim emphasizes a road through Paris perspective and the importance of increasing top-down and bottom-up efforts. “The environment provides us with everything that we enjoy about our lives, so it is crucial that we do what is necessary after COP21 to keep it healthy,” states Kim.

Kim says, “It will be important to get to a zero carbon society as fast as possible and to see that as a top priority that warrants the necessary investments.” An example of this would be the transitions and investments taking place in the energy production sector. “Scientific research provided by the IPCC also states that in order to have a stable climate in the future, we must stop emitting greenhouse gases. The carbon budget tells us how much carbon we have left before we exceed given temperature targets for warming, and drives the recognition that we cannot afford to continue living in a fossil fuel-based world.”

Kim’s Research and Projects

In her research, Kim focuses on reducing climate change through land use and agriculture. “The second biggest source of greenhouse gases is land use and agriculture. This is a challenge and an area that is lagging behind the energy sector,” adds Kim. Changing this sector will require shifts in what we grow in which areas, where foods are sent, and what foods are used for. For example, “Hay grown in California is often sent to the American Mid-West in order to feed livestock, thus depleting California’s resources (water and nutrients in soil) and promoting large-scale, centralized livestock production.” Kim also highlights the fact that we are taking away the productive capacity of land by using high amounts of fertilizers, chemicals, and only focusing on maximizing yields, rather than a more holistic view including other potential benefits from land like biodiversity, carbon sequestration, and aesthetic value.

Tackling climate change will require top-down political changes, as well as bottom-up changes made by people on a daily basis. One recent project that Kim worked on with LUMES student Seth Wynes displayed the impacts that various everyday choices had on climate change (more about the project). In order to gain results, they analyzed a variety of actions and scenarios. “There are several ways people can make choices that have large positive climate impacts. But our research shows that these actions are not what people expect, and not what is most recommended by governments or taught in school,” says Kim. The individual decision with the biggest climate impact is whether and how many children to have, with diet as another influential factor (see Annex 1). Other choices that are highly impactful include airplane flight frequency and distance, vehicle use, and investment in renewable energies.

The “Flying Less” campaign is another interesting project that Kim is involved with. The goal is to encourage academics to lead by example in reducing their emissions by choosing to fly less, and for academic institutions to adopt policies that support this. This new campaign fits with Kim’s personal philosophy since 2012 to avoid flying within Europe, and cut down her flights dramatically. She has even turned down many travelling opportunities, such as a recent invitation to visit South Africa. This is an example of a programme that is helping people align their actions with their values, often referred to as the “value-action gap.”

Climate Change Education

Kim, along with a group of LUMES students, are also working on synthesizing the most current IPCC reports in order to create a concise climate curriculum (draft available in the fact box beside this article) aimed at the undergraduate level. The course will aim to make people well-informed and literate on climate change issues, summarized by the key principles “it’s warming, it’s us, we’re sure, it’s bad, and we can fix it.”


Urban and Community Initiatives

With the majority of people now living in cities, Kim’s research on urban food forestry, the practice of growing trees in cities to provide food and other benefits for people, is growing increasingly relevant. Kim comments, “The food system is vulnerable in many ways, but there is also a big opportunity to make improvements. Increasing local food production and seasonal food use could help create a more resilient system.” Urban areas often rely heavily on imported foods to feed massive populations. Urban food forestry is a possible solution that could provide food, shade, CO2 sequestration, and aesthetic benefits for both urban areas and poorer, rural areas. Kim’s research has shown that many cities don’t see trees as food-growing opportunities, even though they could provide produce.

A local Lund initiative called Fruktsam makes good use of produce-bearing trees by mapping them and picking foods. “The core activities are planting, mapping and harvesting urban food trees, but only 8% of cities we studied are doing all three. There’s a big opportunity to do better,” states Kim. In conclusion, urban forestry and agriculture have the potential to create new jobs and youth training opportunities, while simultaneously creating food that is cheap, healthy, and locally produced.

Text: Jack Fraser

Meet the researchers - Reflections on COP 21

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

Annex 1: Impacts that everyday choices have on climate change

Kimberly Nicholas

High-impact actions can be many times more effective than common recommendations. Persuading a US family to have one fewer child is more effective than persuading 683 non-recycling teenagers to recycle comprehensively for the rest of their lives .

Source: Nicholas K., Wynes, S.

Contact Information

E-mail: kimberly.nicholas [at]

Senior lecturer at LUCSUS (Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies)

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