Top 10Publicationsof 2023

With this selection of its ten most important scientific, peer-reviewed publications in 2023, the Wuppertal Institute aims to provide an insight into the state of its internationally perceived research work against the background of its transdisciplinary research approach.

Climate, energy and resource transition

Lukas Hermwille, Adis Dzebo, Gabriela Ileana Iacobuta, Wolfgang Obergassel (2023). Global stocktake and the SDG midterm review as opportunities for integration.

In: Nature Climate Change 13, 1002–1004

Better integration of climate action and sustainable development can help enhance the ambition of the next nationally determined contributions (NDCs), as well as the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Governments should use this year as an opportunity to emphasise the links between climate and sustainable development.
In 2015, the world embarked on an ambitious climate and development agenda with the adoption of the Paris Agreement and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Now, both processes are at important milestones in terms of assessing the progress achieved so far. In December 2023, the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Dubai concluded the first global stocktake, a process for assessing collective progress towards the Paris Agreement objectives. In September 2023, the midterm review of the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals took place at the SDG Summit in New York. Yet no pleasant surprises were expected: It was already clear in advance that progress to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement was way off track, as countries’ nationally determined contributions were far too weak to achieve the objectives of the Paris Agreement. Similarly, at the midpoint to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, no country was on track. Progress on the 17 SDGs has stalled over the past three years. On some goals, the world has been backsliding, raising questions about political will as well as suitable options for changing course.

Wolfgang Obergassel, Chun Xia-Bauer, Stefan Thomas (2023). Strengthening global climate governance and international cooperation for energy-efficient buildings.

In: Energy Efficiency 16, 100

Buildings constitute one of the main GHG emitting sectors, and energy efficiency is a key lever to reduce emissions in the sector. Global climate policy has so far mostly focused on economy-wide emissions. However, emission reduction actions are ultimately sectoral, and opportunities and barriers to achieving emission reductions vary strongly among sectors. This article therefore seeks to analyse to what extent more targeted global governance may help to leverage mitigation enablers and overcome barriers to energy efficiency in buildings. To this end, the article first synthesises existing literature on mitigation enablers and barriers as well as existing literature on how global governance may help address these barriers (“governance potential”). On this basis, the article analyses to what extent this governance potential has already been activated by existing activities of international institutions. Finally, the article discusses how identified governance gaps could be closed. The analysis finds that despite the local characteristics of the sector, global governance has a number of levers at its disposal that could be used to promote emission reductions via energy efficiency. In practice, however, lacking attention to energy efficiency in buildings at national level is mirrored at the international level. Recently, though, a number of coalitions demanding stronger action have emerged. Such frontrunners could work through like-minded coalitions and at the same time try to improve conditions for cooperation in the climate regime and other existing institutions.

Ylva Kloo, Lars J. Nilsson, Ellen Palm (2024). Reaching net-zero in the chemical industry – A study of roadmaps for industrial decarbonisation.

In: Renewable and Sustainable Energy Transition 5, 100075

Striving to mitigate climate change, the European Union has adopted net-zero greenhouse gas emissions as a target for 2050. In this paper, European chemical industry roadmaps from the past six years are assessed and compared to uncover how the industry envisions its role in the transition to net-zero emissions. The roadmaps are assessed in terms of ambition level, technology and feedstock strategies, investment needs and costs, agency and dependency on other actors, as well as timeline and concretion. Although net-zero pathways are often drawn out in the roadmaps, some also choose to emphasise and argue for less ambitious pathways with emission reductions of only 40 to 60 per cent. The roadmaps vary widely in terms of the importance they assign to mechanical and chemical recycling, switching to biogenic carbon and carbon dioxide as feedstock, electrification and hydrogen, and carbon capture and storage. A commonality though, is that low-tech or near-term mitigation pathways such as demand reduction, reuse or material efficiency are seldom included. High investment needs are generally highlighted, as well as the need for policy to create enabling conditions, whereas the agency and responsibility of the chemical industry itself is downplayed. The analysis highlights that the chemical industry does not yet have a strong and shared vision for pathways to net-zero emissions. The authors conclude that such a future vision would benefit from taking a whole value chain approach including demand-side options and consideration of scope 3 emissions.

Sascha Samadi, Andreas Fischer, Stefan Lechtenböhmer (2023). The renewables pull effect: How regional differences in renewable energy costs could influence where industrial production is located in the future.

In: Energy Research & Social Science 104, 103257

To combat climate change, it is anticipated that in the coming years countries around the world will adopt more stringent policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase the use of clean energy sources. These policies will also affect the industry sector, which means that industrial production is likely to progressively shift from CO2-emitting fossil fuel sources to renewable energy sources. As a result, a region's renewable energy resources could become an increasingly important factor in determining where energy-intensive industries locate their production. The authors refer to this pull factor as the “renewables pull” effect. Renewables pull could lead to the relocation of some industrial production as a consequence of regional differences in the marginal cost of renewable energy sources. In this paper, the scientists introduce the concept of renewables pull and explain why its importance is likely to increase in the future. Using the examples of direct reduced iron and ammonia production, the authors find that the future costs of climate-neutral production of certain products is likely to vary considerably between regions with different renewable energy resources. However, they also identify the fact that many other factors in addition to energy costs determine the decisions that companies make in term of location, leaving room for further research to better understand the future relevance of renewables pull.

Sibel Raquel Ersoy, Julia Terrapon-Pfaff, Thomas Pregger, Josua Braun, El Mostafa Jamea, Ahmed Al-Salaymeh, Patrick Braunschweig, Zsuzsa Bereschi, Oana Teodora Ciobotaru, Peter Viebahn (2023). Industrial and infrastructural conditions for production and export of green hydrogen and synthetic fuels in the MENA region: insights from Jordan, Morocco, and Oman.

In: Sustainability Science 19, 222

Green hydrogen and synthetic fuels are increasingly recognised as a key strategic element for the progress of the global energy transition. The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, with its large wind and solar potential, is well positioned to generate renewable energy at low cost for the production of green hydrogen and synthetic fuels, and is therefore considered as a potential future producer and exporter. Yet, while solar and wind energy potentials are essential, other factors are expected to play an equally important role for the development of green hydrogen and synthetic fuels (export) sectors. This includes, in particular, adequate industrial capacities and infrastructures. These preconditions vary from country to country, and while they have been often mentioned in the discussion on green hydrogen exports, they have only been examined to a limited extent. This paper employs a case study approach to assess the existing infrastructural and industrial conditions in Jordan, Morocco, and Oman for the development of a green hydrogen and downstream synthetic fuel (export) sector.

Jonas Lage, Johannes Thema, Carina Zell-Ziegler, Benjamin Best, Luisa Cordroch, Frauke Wiese (2023). Citizens call for sufficiency and regulation – A comparison of European citizen assemblies and National Energy and Climate Plans.

In: Energy Research & Social Science 104, 103254

There is a growing body of scientific evidence supporting sufficiency as an inevitable strategy for mitigating climate change. Despite this, sufficiency plays a minor role in existing climate and energy policies. Following previous work on the national energy and climate plans of EU countries, the authors conduct a similar content analysis of the recommendations made by citizen assemblies on climate change mitigation in ten European countries and the EU, and compare the results of these studies. Citizen assemblies are representative mini-publics and enjoy a high level of legitimacy.
The authors identify a total of 860 mitigation policy recommendations in the citizen assemblies’ documents, of which 332 (39 per cent) include sufficiency. Most of the sufficiency policies relate to the mobility sector, the least relate to the buildings sector. Regulatory instruments are the most often proposed means for achieving sufficiency, followed by fiscal and economic instruments. The average approval rate of sufficiency policies is high (93 per cent), with the highest rates for regulatory policies.
Compared to national energy and climate plans, the citizen assembly recommendations include a significantly higher share of sufficiency policies (factor three to six) with a stronger focus on regulatory policies. Consequently, the recommendations can be interpreted as a call for a sufficiency turn and a regulatory turn in climate mitigation politics. These results suggest that the observed lack of sufficiency in climate policy making is not due to a lack of legitimacy, but rather reflects a reluctance to implement sufficiency policies, the constitution of the policy making process and competing interests.

Maike Jansen, Tobias Meisen, Christiane Plociennik, Holger Berg, André Pomp, Waldemar Windholz (2023). Stop guessing in the dark: Identified requirements for Digital Product Passport Systems.

In: Systems 11, 123

The Digital Product Passport (DPP) is a concept for collecting and sharing product-related information along the life cycle of a product. DPPs are currently the subject of intense discussion, and various development efforts are being undertaken. These are supported by regulatory activities, especially in the case of the battery passport. The aggregation of product life-cycle data and their respective use, as well as the sharing of these data between companies, entrepreneurs, and other actors in the value chain, is crucial for the creation of a resource-efficient circular economy. Despite the urgent need for such a solution, there is currently little attention given to the digital infrastructure for the creation and handling of the DPPs (i.e., the so-called DPP system). Moreover, there is so far no common understanding of what the requirements for a DPP system are. This is the background and underlying motivation of the paper: The authors identify the requirements for a DPP system in a structured way, i.e., based on stakeholder involvement and current literature from science and industry. In addition, they compose, categorise, and critically analyse the results, i.e., the list of requirements for DPP systems, in order to identify gaps. Summarised, the research provides insights into the criteria to be considered in the creation of an actual DPP system.

Consumer behaviour

Paul R. Schneider (2023). From elements to policies: A Shovian social practice perspective on pathways to facilitate daily E-bike commuting.

In: Transport Policy 143, 36-45

The rise of pedal-assisted bicycles (e-bikes) has the potential to contribute to reducing ubiquitous automobility and its negative externalities on the global climate, mobility justice and the quality of urban life. But what makes this new practice so successful in recruiting new practitioners? What policies can ensure that e-bikes are used in a wide range of situations, thus substituting as much car driving as possible – or even reducing the number of cars? The study focuses on commuting as this use case frequently entails the main obstacles to e-biking in daily routines (e.g., sweat, weather, transporting children or goods). The analysis is primarily based on interviews with practitioners and initially provides a thorough depiction of the practice elements (meanings, materials and competences) involved in e-bike commuting. It furthermore elicits key drivers of and barriers to daily e-bike commuting, points to a number of elements that are important to overcome these barriers and develops two tangible policy approaches to foster the substitution of e-biking for car driving.

Mariam Nikravech, Nina Langen, Erica van Herpen, Sebastian Schuster, Melanie Speck (2023). Leftovers lovers vs. haters: A latent class analysis on dinner leftover management behaviours.

In: Appetite 190, 107019

Leftovers are particularly at risk of being discarded, and therefore a main component of household food waste. This study provides insights into sources of heterogeneity in leftover management behaviours, with a particular focus on the use of meal kits providing matched portion and ingredient sizes, and identifies consumer segments via a latent class analysis. The authors investigate whether belonging to a segment with positive attitudes toward leftovers, and engagement in conscious leftover management behaviours decreases the amounts of dinner leftovers and food waste. Besides, they demonstrate that several food waste antecedents, emotions, personal norms, intention and dinner procurement routines elicit leftover management segment membership. In addition to examining such individual differences, they also investigate the role of meal-level determinants, in particular, whether meal kits heterogeneously affect dinner leftovers depending on the consumer's leftover management segment.
Results of the latent class analysis point towards five consumer segments. The authors found differences in dinner leftover amounts across classes and detected heterogeneous effects of meal kits. That is, meal kits were able to diminish leftovers in two segments, but not in the other segments. These results provide novel insights into consumer heterogeneity regarding the occurrence, antecedents, and potential solutions of leftovers and resulting household food waste.

Julia Heinz, Anita Menzel, Lynn Wagner, Nina Langen, Melanie Speck (2023). Dishing up biodiversity: how does out-of-home catering affect biodiversity? Assessment methodology and implementation in commercial kitchens.

In: Ernährungs-Umschau 70, 116–24

Biodiversity is under threat all over the planet. Implementing sustainable out-of-home catering (OHC) is a key way to reduce the environmental impact of the agri-food sector. Thus far, there have been no studies that show the impact of food on biodiversity at the menu level in Germany. This means that neither commercial kitchens nor their patrons can record the biodiversity impact of the menus or dishes served there. This article describes the development of an assessment framework and some initial findings. The framework was developed on the basis of a systematic literature review and expert interviews. Taking this as a starting point, an indicator-based approach was developed with a focus on land use. The approach was then validated by assessing recipes used at OHC facilities. The results show that using the BiTe Biodiversity Index that was developed, it is possible to assess the biodiversity impacts of meals and optimise them at the level of the dish. The article outlines the possible areas for improvement. Overall, it is clear that this approach can already be used in the OHC context today.

Further Top Ten

The annual selection of important scientific publications is available here for the following years:

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