Top 10Publicationsof 2017

This selection of the ten most important scientific publications of the Wuppertal Institute in 2017 provides an insight into the current international recognised research activities in the context of sustainability transformations.

Modeling and Transdisciplinary Methods

Terrapon-Pfaff, Julia; Fink, Thomas; Viebahn, Peter; Jamea, El Mostafa
Determining significance in social impact assessments (SIA) by applying both technical and participatory approaches: Methodology development and application in a case study of the concentrated solar power plant NOORO I in Morocco

In: Environmental Impact Assessment Review 66 (2017), pp. 138–150

One of the main objectives of impact assessments is to identify potentially significant impacts. However, determining this significance has received very limited attention as a procedural step in social impact assessments. Consequently, only limited research and documentation exists on approaches, survey tools and evaluation methods, especially with regard to participatory approaches and combined participatory-technical approaches. This study aims at adressing this research gap by developing and applying a joined participatory and technical impact significance evaluation. The approach is applied in a case study which has analysed impacts on living conditions, going back on the large-scale concentrated solar power plant NOORO I in Ouarzazate, Morocco. The analysis shows that, although different approaches and significance criteria must be applied when involving both local stakeholders and experts, the linked analysis offers more robust results and an improved basis for decision-making. Furthermore, it was observed in the case study that impacts affecting the social, cultural and political spheres were more often considered significant than impacts affecting the physical and material livelihood dimensions. Regarding sustainability assessments of large-scale renewable energy plants, these findings underline the importance (as for other large-scale infrastructure developments) of placing greater emphasis on the inclusion of social aspects in impact assessments.

Samadi, Sascha
The social costs of electricity generation: Categorising different types of costs and evaluating their respective relevance

In: Energies 10 (2017), 356

In multiple published studies, the cost-efficiency of various electricity generation technologies are matches against each other. However, most of those studies only consider plant-level costs and do not fully take into account additional costs that societies may face in using these technologies. This article reviews the literature on the costs of electricity generation technologies, aiming at determining which types of costs are relevant from a societal point of view when comparing generation technologies. The paper categorises the relevant types of costs, differentiating between plant-level, system and external costs as the main categories. It discusses the relevance of each type for every generation technology that is analysed. The findings suggest that several low-carbon electricity generation technologies exhibit lower social costs per kWh than the currently dominant technologies using fossil fuels. More generally, the outcomes stresses the importance of taking not only plant-level costs, but also system and external costs, into account when comparing electricity generation technologies from a societal point of view. The article intends to inform both policy-makers and energy system modellers, the latter who may strive to include all relevant types of costs in their models.

Samadi, Sascha; Gröne, Marie-Christine; Schneidewind, Uwe; Luhmann, Hans-Jochen; Venjakob, Johannes; Best, Benjamin
Sufficiency in energy scenario studies: Taking the potential benefits of lifestyle changes into account

In: Technological Forecasting & Social Change 124 (2017), pp. 126–134

In recent years, a number of energy scenario studies, which aim at advising policy-makers on appropriate energy policy measures, have been developed. These studies highlight changes required to achieve a future energy system that is in line with public policy goals such as reduced greenhouse gas emissions and an affordable energy supply. We argue that behavioural changes towards energy-sufficient lifestyles have considerable potential to contribute to public policy goals and may even be indispensable for achieving some of these goals. This potential should, therefore, be reflected in scenario studies aiming to provide comprehensive advice to policy makers. We analyse the role that energy-sufficient lifestyles play in prominent recent global energy scenario studies and find that these studies largely ignore its potential. We also describe how such changes have been considered in several other scenario studies, in order to derive recommendations for the future development of global energy scenarios. We conclude that the implementation of lifestyle changes in energy scenarios is both possible and useful. Based on our findings, we present some general advice for energy scenario developers on how to better integrate sufficiency into future energy scenario studies in a qualitative and quantitative manner.

Buhl, Johannes; Geibler, Justus von; Echternacht, Laura; Linder, Moritz
Rebound effects in Living Labs: Opportunities for monitoring and mitigating re-spending and time use effects in user integrated innovation design

In: Journal of Cleaner Production 151 (2017), pp. 592–602

The sucess of sustainable products and services is often diminished by limited market acceptance or unexpected consumption patterns. The latter includes rebound effects, which occur when resources liberated by savings are used for further consumption. Recently emerging research from the living lab is striving to address and anticipate challenges in innovation design by integrating users in prototyping and field testing products and service innovations. The paper presents findings from a literature review on rebound effects and expert interviews identifying methods to monitor and measures to mitigate rebound effects in early innovation design via living lab research. We find that monitoring and mitigating rebound effects in living lab research includes technological and behavioural triggers from a socio-psychological perspective and time-use-effects in addition to economic re-spending effects. The experts have confirmed that living labs contain the potential to observe complex demand systems of users within experimental designs, encompassing indirect rebound effects in terms of expenditure as well as time-use. In this respect, living lab research can facilitate support for sustainable innovations, which aim at encouraging changes in consumer behaviour, considering both re-spending and time-use-effects simultaneously.

Climate, Energy and Ressource Transition

Hermwille, Lukas; Obergassel, Wolfgang; Ott, Hermann E.; Beuermann, Christiane
UNFCCC before and after Paris: What's necessary for an effective climate regime?

In: Climate Policy 17 (2017), pp. 150–170

What can reasonably be expected from the UNFCCC process and the climate conference in Paris 2015? To achieve transformative change, prevailing unsustainable routines embedded in socio-economic systems have to be translated into new and sustainable ones. This article conceptualizes the UNFCCC and the associated policy processes as a catalyst for this translation by applying a structurational regime model. This model provides an analytical distinction of rules (norms and shared meaning) and resources (economic resources as well as authoritative and allocative power) and allows us to conceptualize agency on various levels, including beyond nation states. The analysis concludes that the UNFCCC's narrow focus on emission targets, which essentially is a focus on resources, has proven ineffective. In addition, the static division of industrialized and developing countries in the Convention's annexes and the consensus-based decision-making rules have impeded ambitious climate protection. The article concludes that the UNFCCC is much better equipped to provide rules for climate protection activities and should consciously expand this feature to improve its impact.

Wesseling, Joeri H.; Lechtenböhmer, Stefan; Åhman, Max; Nilsson, Lars J.; Worrell, Ernst; Coenen, Lars
The transition of energy intensive processing industries towards deep decarbonization: Characteristics and implications for future research

In: Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews 79 (2017), pp. 1303–1313

Energy-intensive processing industries (EPIs) produce iron and steel, aluminium, chemicals, cement, glass, and paper and pulp and are responsible for a large share of global greenhouse gas emissions. To meet 2050 emission targets, an accelerated transition towards deep decarbonisation is required in these industries. Insights from sociotechnical and innovation systems perspectives are needed to better understand how to steer and facilitate this transition process. The transitions literature has so far, however, not featured EPIs. This paper positions EPIs within the transitions literature by characterizing their sociotechnical and innovation systems in terms of industry structure, innovation strategies, networks, markets and governmental interventions. We subsequently explore how these characteristics may influence the transition to deep decarbonisation and identify gaps in the literature from which we formulate an agenda for further transitions research on EPIs and consider policy implications. Furthering this research field would not only enrich discussions on policy for achieving deep decarbonisation, but would also develop transitions theory since the distinctive EPI characteristics are likely to yield new patterns in transition dynamics.

Bahn-Walkowiak, Bettina; Wilts, Henning
The institutional dimension of resource efficiency in a multi-level governance system: Implications for policy mix design

In: Energy Research & Social Science 33 (2017), pp. 163–172

The paper takes a closer look at the relation of institutions and policy mixes within the multi-level scope of the European Union in the policy field of resource efficiency and maps out different configurations. Based on an extensive analysis of scope, foci, instruments and especially the distribution of institutional responsibilities in 32 EU countries, the paper aims to amplify the categorisation of policy mix characteristics developed by Rogge and Reichardt under consideration of the institutional background of policy mixes. It specifically brings into question the potential impact of different institutional settings on the consistency and coherence of approaches in this evolving field of policy. Resource efficiency is an eminently cross-cutting policy concept and an interesting unit of analysis due to the observable heterogeneity of implementation approaches. However, it is still mainly disconnected from energy issues and – at the same time – EU policy has shifted to the circular economy approach, indicating further need for streamlining with the resource efficiency approach. The paper stresses the need to include institutional and multi-level governance issues for policy design and the development of policy mixes, especially in the context of the now refocused resource efficiency agenda to the transition to a circular economy.

Berlo, Kurt; Wagner, Oliver; Heenen, Marisa
The incumbents' conservation strategies in the German energy regime as an impediment to re-municipalization: An analysis guided by the multi-level perspective

In: Sustainability 9 (2017), 53

After two decades of privatisation and outsourcing being the dominant trends across public services, an inclination towards founding new municipal power utilities can be observed. In this article, the authors examine the preservation strategies of the German energy regime following the transition approach developed by Geels. From the multi-level perspective, it can be stated that innovations take place in niches and have to overcome the obstacles and persistence of the conventional fossil-nuclear energy regime. Through an empirical analysis, it can be concluded that the established regime significantly delays the decentralization process required for a transformation of energy structures on local electricity grids. Furthermore, it is shown that municipal utilities (Stadtwerke) are important key actors for the German Energiewende (energy transition) as they function as local energy distributors and they meet a variety of requirements to promote fundamental structural change. The trend towards re-municipalisation and the re-establishment of municipal utilities reveal the desire to further strengthen the scope of local politics.

Sectoral Changes: Mobility and Nutrition

Lah, Oliver
Continuity and change – dealing with political volatility to advance climate change mitigation strategies: Examples from the transport sector

In: Sustainability 9 (2017), 959

As the recent withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Agreement has shown, political volatility directly affects climate change mitigation policies, in particular in sectors, such as transport associated with long-term investments by individuals (vehicles) and by local and national governments (urban form and transport infrastructure and services). There is a large potential for cost-effective solutions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to improve the sustainability of the transport sector that is yet unexploited. Considering the cost-effectiveness and the potential for co-benefits, it is hard to understand why efficiency gains and CO2 emission reductions in the transport sector are still lagging behind this potential. Particularly interesting is the fact that there is substantial difference among countries with relatively similar economic performances in the development of their transport CO2 emissions over the past thirty years despite the fact that these countries had relatively similar access to efficient technologies and vehicles. This study aims to explore some well-established political science theories on the particular example of climate change mitigation in the transport sector in order to identify some of the factors that could help explain the variations in success of policies and strategies in this sector. The analysis suggests that institutional arrangements that contribute to consensus building in the political process provide a high level of political and policy stability, which is vital to long-term changes in energy end-use sectors that rely on long-term investments. However, there is no direct correlation between institutional structures, e.g., corporatism and success in reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the transport sector. Environmental objectives need to be built into the consensus-based policy structure before actual policy progress can be observed. This usually takes longer in consensus democracies than in politically more agile majoritarian policy environments, but the policy stability that builds on corporatist institutional structures is likely to experience changes over a longer-term, in this case to a shift towards low-carbon transport that endures.

Pfeiffer, Cynthia; Speck, Melanie; Strassner, Carola
What leads to lunch: How social practices impact (non-) sustainable food consumption/eating habits

In: Sustainability 9 (2017), 1437

The field of nutrition will face numerous challenges in coming decades; these arise from global consumption patterns and lead to a high use of resources. Actors in the catering sector face difficulties in promoting their solutions for a more sustainable situation in their field, one of them being the lack of acceptance from consumers. We must ask the question of how to influence consumer behaviour and bring forth a transition towards more sustainable food consumption. This paper presents results of a qualitative assessment of eating practices. A group of ten consumers participated in problem-centred interviews and provided data on their eating-out behaviour over the course of two weeks. Using the theoretical approach of practice theory, the data gathered in this study were used to form an understanding of the practice of eating out with a focus on the daily routines that influence consumer choices. The results indicate that the practice of eating out is highly dependent on external factors. Busy lifestyles, mobility routines and a perceived lack of time prompt the decision to eat out. Consumers consciously do so to save time and effort and to streamline their schedules. Mobility seems to be an important driver for eating out. Participants try to limit the ways they undertake eating out yet often stop for a meal in-between appointments spontaneously. Findings suggest that nutrition knowledge and sustainable mindsets have little influence on the eating decisions away from home: Participants show a high level of distrust towards quality claims and put their health concerns aside eating out. We can conclude that the act of eating out is strongly influenced by daily routines and those practices that precede or succeed it. Changes in work and mobility patterns are very likely to have an impact on the way consumers eat away from home.

Further Top Ten

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

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