Top 10 Publications of 2021

The ten best peer-reviewed publications of the Wuppertal Institute of the past year

  • News 14.03.2022

This selection of the ten most important peer-reviewed scientific publications of the Wuppertal Institute in 2021 provides an insight into the current internationally recognised research activities in the context of sustainability transformations.

Climate-, Energy- and Resources Transition

Based on a representative online survey involving 1023 consumers in Germany aged 16 and older, Dr. Henning Wilts, Marina Fecke and Christine Zeher from the Circular Economy Division at the Wuppertal Institute investigated the incentives and barriers for selling and buying second-hand products. The results of their paper "Economics of waste prevention: second-hand products in Germany" show that there are valuable unused products in households. However, there are barriers such as uncertainties about the reliability of buyers or the quality of the product that hinder the transition to sustainable consumption. Different forms of transaction costs provide the rationale for why consumers nevertheless predominantly buy new products, even though they know that they would save money and make an individual contribution to climate protection by focusing on used products.

While many companies have committed to achieving net zero emissions, the supply side of the voluntary carbon market is struggling to align its business model with the new legal architecture of the Paris Agreement. Nicolas Kreibich and Dr. Lukas Hermwille from the International Climate Policy Research Unit at the Wuppertal Institute's Energy, Transport and Climate Policy Division juxtapose these two perspectives. In their article "Caught in between: credibility and feasibility of the voluntary carbon market post-2020," they provide an overview of the plans of 482 large companies that have committed to carbon neutrality. The two authors highlight the efforts on the supply side of the voluntary carbon market to find a viable business model that ensures environmental integrity and helps achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement. Their findings: if carbon credits are used to offset remaining emissions against neutrality objectives, these credits need to be accounted against the host countries' Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to ensure environmental integrity. Yet, operationalising this approach is challenging and will require innovative solutions and political support.

To what extent does "exnovation", the deliberate shift away from unsustainable technologies and practices, play a role alongside the promotion of innovation in both national and local authorities? To find an answer, researchers from the Energy, Transport and Climate Policy Division at the Wuppertal Institute developed a framework to provide a comprehensive assessment of urban mobility transformation policies. The findings in their paper "The other side of the (policy) coin: analysing exnovation policies for the urban mobility transition in eight cities around the globe" suggest that most cities are using exnovation policy approaches to address selective urban mobility problems. This applies, for example, to the gradual abolition of diesel buses or the restriction of the use of environmentally harmful motor vehicles. However, the authors found no evidence of a systematic exnovation approach.

Miriam Müller and Prof. Dr. Oscar Reutter from the Mobility and Transport Policy Research Unit at the Wuppertal Institute analyse which change of course in urban passenger transport is needed for climate protection and sustainability. The results of their article "Course change: navigating urban passenger transport towards sustainability through modal shift" suggest that roughly a halving of urban car use is needed. In order to significantly reduce car use and CO2 emissions, the researchers believe that modal shift measures need to play a crucial role in integrated approaches with land use and efficiency measures.

When using carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies, the question of societal acceptance is a decisive factor for the implementation of such low-carbon technologies. In the energy-intensive industrial sector, this issue is particularly relevant, as the targeted greenhouse gas neutrality cannot be achieved without the use of CCS. The study "Social Acceptance of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) from Industrial Applications" by Katja Witte, Co-Head of the Future Energy and Industrial Systems Division at the Wuppertal Institute, is a first literature review addressing the acceptance of industrial CCS (iCCS). Her results show that there has been limited research on the acceptance of iCCS and that there are some important differences between the acceptance of iCCS and CCS.

In order to achieve the goal of zero emissions in energy- and emissions-intensive industries, a change in industrial policy is necessary. For this purpose, the authors from the Future Energy and Industrial Systems Divisionat the Wuppertal Institute propose a comprehensive industrial policy framework in their article "An industrial policy framework for transforming energy and emissions intensive industries towards zero emissions". Current policy is limited to supporting mainly some options, such as energy efficiency and recycling, mostly excluding energy- and emissions-intensive industries. To achieve zero emissions, an extended range of options must be pursued, such as demand management, materials efficiency, and electrification.

Modeling and transdisciplinary methods

The use of metals in electrical and electronic equipment raises problems because they cannot be recovered sufficiently in the end-of-life phase. Konrad Schoch, Prof. Dr. Christa Liedtke and Katrin Bienge from the Sustainable Production and Consumption Research Unit at the Wuppertal Institute are addressing the unleashed dissipation of metals caused by the design of electrical and electronic equipment for which no globally established recycling technology exists. Based on a case study "Designing on the basis of recycling-metallurgy possibilities: material-specific rules and standards for "anti-dissipative" products" for the chemical element indium, they derived a first material-specific rule for the design of so-called "anti-dissipative" products, which supports a recycling-friendly design of electrical and electronic equipment.

Using the change-maker initiative "Utopiastadt" in Wuppertal as an example, Matthias Wanner, Boris Bachmann and Timo von Wirth from the Sustainable Production and Consumption Research Unit at the Wuppertal Institute describe practices of urban experimentation. Together with the city administration, a private property owner and the local economic development agency, the initiative planned the development of a central brownfield site. In their paper "Contextualising urban experimentation: Analysing the Utopiastadt Campus with the theory of strategic action fields", the authors aim to demonstrate the potential of the theory of Strategic Action Fields (SAFs) to understand a long-term urban development process. In addition, they reflected on whether the process helped strengthen collaborative and experimental approaches in the governance of city development.

Together with authors from University College London and other institutions, Dr. Sascha Samadi from the  Sectors and Technologies Research Unit at the Wuppertal Institute conducted a systematic and interdisciplinary review of the empirical literature. In the article "Induced innovation in energy technologies and systems: a review of evidence and potential implications for CO2 mitigation" the researchers assessed evidence on induced innovation in energy and related technologies. They derived three main conclusions: First, demand-pull forces enhance patenting and econometric studies find positive impacts in industry, electricity and transport sectors in all but a few specific cases. Second, technology costs decline with cumulative investment for almost every technology studied across all time periods when controlled for other factors. Third, overall innovation is cumulative, multi-faceted, and self-reinforcing in its direction (path-dependent).

In their article "The green hydrogen puzzle", authors from the Energy, Transport and Climate Policy and Future Energy and Industrial Systems Divisions at the Wuppertal Institute examined how policy-making for green hydrogen development may support industry defossilisation (substitution of fossil fuels by so-called green fuels). Using a simplified multi-criteria analysis (MCA), the researchers identified four challenges and seven relevant policy instruments. The results of the MCA reveal the potential of each of the selected instruments to address the challenges. In addition, the authors outline how the instruments might be combined to support industry defossilisation, create synergies, and avoid trade-offs.

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