Top 10Publicationsof 2020

This selection of the ten most important peer-reviewed scientific publications of the Wuppertal Institute in 2020 provides an insight into the current international recognised research activities in the context of sustainability transformations.

Modeling and transdisciplinary methods

Carolin Baedeker, Julius Piwowar, Philipp Themann, Viktor Grinewitschus, Benjamin Krisemendt, Katja Lepper, Christina Zimmer, Justus von Geibler (2020). Interactive Design to Encourage Energy Efficiency in Offices: Developing and Testing a User-Centered Building Management System Based on a Living Lab Approach

In: Sustainability 12, 6956

Many technical solutions have been developed to enhance the energy efficiency in buildings. However, the actual effectiveness and sustainability of these solutions often do not correspond to expectations because of the missing perspective of design, user's real needs, and unconsidered negative side effects of their use (rebounds). With the aim to help addressing these challenges, this paper presents results of a longitudinal living lab study and proposes a user-centered building management system (UC-BMS) as a prototype for office buildings. Based on mixed methods, UC-BMS was co-developed, tested, and evaluated in Germany in six office buildings, 85 offices, and within two heating periods. The results demonstrate that such a user-oriented approach can save up to 20 per cent of energy while maintaining or even improving comfort and work productivity. The findings show three main areas of intervention and elements of UC-BMS: (1) How interactive design and feedback systems (e.g. air quality) can stimulate ventilation practices and energy efficiency in offices and (2) supporting heating system optimization by better understanding office behaviour, for instance. (3) Finally, an office comfort survey was conducted to enable communication between the facility management and office users and thus limiting complaints and adapting the heating system towards actual office user needs.

Georg Holtz, Christian Schnülle, Malcom Yadack, Jonas Friege, Thorben Jensen, Pablo Thier, Peter Viebahn, Emile Chappin (2020). Using Agent-Based Models to Generate Transformation Knowledge for the German Energiewende – Potentials and Challenges Derived from Four Case Studie

In: Energies 13, 6133

The German Energiewende is a deliberate transformation of an established industrial economy towards a nearly CO2-free energy system accompanied by a phase out of nuclear energy. Its governance requires knowledge on how to steer the transition from the existing status quo to the target situation (transformation knowledge). The energy system is, however, a complex socio-technical system whose dynamics are influenced by behavioural and institutional aspects, which are badly represented by the dominant techno-economic scenario studies. In this paper, the researchers therefore investigate and identify the characteristics of model studies that make agent-based modelling supportive for the generation of transformation knowledge for the Energiewende. This is done by reflecting on the experiences gained from four different applications of agent-based models. In particular, the authors analyse whether the studies have improved their understanding of policies' impacts on the energy system, whether the knowledge derived is useful for practitioners, how valid understanding derived by the studies is, and whether the insights can be used beyond the initial case-studies. The research team concludes that agent-based modelling has a high potential to generate transformation knowledge, but that the design of projects in which the models are developed and used is of major importance to reap this potential. Well-informed and goal-oriented stakeholder involvement and a strong collaboration between data collection and model development are crucial.

Climate-, Energy- and Resources Transition

Clemens Schneider, Stefan Lechtenböhmer, Sascha Samadi (2020). Risks and opportunities associated with decarbonising Rotterdams industrial cluster

In: Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions 35, p. 414-428

The Port of Rotterdam is an important industrial cluster, comprising mainly oil refining, chemical production and power generation. In 2016, the port's industry accounted for 19 per cent of the Netherlands' total CO2 emissions. The Port of Rotterdam Authority is aware that the cluster is heavily exposed to future decarbonisation policies, as most of its activities focus on trading, handling, converting and using fossil fuels. Based on a study for the Port Authority using a mixture of qualitative and quantitative methods, the article explores three pathways whereby the port's industry can maintain its strong position while significantly reducing its CO2 emissions and related risks by 2050. The pathways differ in terms of the EU's assumed climate change mitigation ambitions and the key technological choices made by the cluster's companies. The focus of the paper is on identifying key risks associated with each scenario and ways in which these could be mitigated.

Johannes Buhl, Christa Liedtke, Sebastian Schuster, Katrin Bienge (2020). Predicting the material footprint in Germany between 2015 and 2020 via Seasonally Decomposed Autoregressive and Exponential Smoothing Algorithms

In: Resources 9, 125

Recent research on the natural resource use of private consumption suggests a sustainable material footprint of 8 tons per capita by 2050 in industrialised countries. The authors analyse the material footprint in Germany from 2015 to 2020 in order to test whether the material footprint decreases accordingly. The research team studied the material footprint of 113,559 users of an online footprint calculator and predicted the material footprint by seasonally decomposed autoregressive (STL-ARIMA) and exponentially smoothing (STL-ETS) algorithms. The authors find a relatively stable material footprint for private consumption. The overall material footprint decreased by 0.4 per cent per year between 2015 and 2020 on average. The predictions do not suggest that the material footprint of private consumption follows the reduction path of 3.3 per cent per year that will lead to the sustainable consumption of natural resource.

Manfred Fischedick, Uwe Schneidewind (2020). The Corona crisis and climate protection – keeping long-term goals in mind: Cleverly directing economic aid and exploiting synergy potentials for urgently needed investments

In: Nachhaltigkeitsmanagementforum 28, p. 77-81

The Corona pandemic is defining our current everyday life and hitting Germany, Europe and the world at a time when there are a multitude of huge challenges to be solved already. Economic aid is indispensable during and in the aftermath of such a crisis, but the primary focus is to prevent the spread of the pandemic and limiting the health implications. Economic stimulus packages and structural aid are an effective means of overcoming the long-term economic consequences of such disruptive developments. However, they must not be distributed according to the "watering can principle"; financial support must be provided in a future-oriented manner for urgently needed investments. The aim must be to promote the necessary sustainable transformation processes within our economy and society, such as climate protection. According to the authors, the preparations must be made now. This discussion paper shows which criteria and measures are needed.

María Yetano Roche, Hans Verolme, Chibuikem Agbaegbu, Taylor Binnington, Manfred Fischedick & Emmanuel Olukayode Oladipo (2020). Sustainable Development Goals in Nigeria's power sector: assessment of transition pathways

In: Climate Policy 20, p. 846-865

Nigeria is Africa's largest economy and home to approximately 10 per cent of the un-electrified population of Sub-Saharan Africa. In 2017, 77 million Nigerians or 40 per cent of the population had no access to affordable, reliable and sustainable electricity. In practice, diesel- and petrol-fuelled back-up generators supply the vast majority of electricity in the country. In Nigeria's nationally-determined contribution (NDC) under the Paris Agreement, over 60 per cent of the greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) reductions are foreseen in the power sector. The goal of this study is to identify and critically examine the pathways available to Nigeria to meet its 2030 electricity access, renewables and decarbonization goals in the power sector. Using published data and stakeholder interviews, the authors build three potential scenarios for electrification and growth in demand, generation and transmission capacity. The demand assumptions incorporate existing knowledge on pathways for electrification via grid extension, mini-grids and solar home systems (SHS). The supply assumptions are built upon an evaluation of the investment pipeline for generation and transmission capacity, and possible scale-up rates up to 2030. The results reveal that, in the most ambitious green transition scenario, Nigeria meets its electricity access goals, whereby those connected to the grid achieve a Tier 3 level of access, and those served by sustainable off-grid solutions (mini-grids and SHS) achieve Tier 2. Decarbonisation pledges would be surpassed in all three scenarios but renewable energy goals would only be partly met. Fossil fuel-based back-up generation continues to play a substantial role in all scenarios. The implications and critical uncertainties of these findings are extensively discussed.

Mingshun Zhang, Ya Lian, Hui Zhao, Chun Xia-Bauer (2020). Unlocking green financing for building energy retrofit: a survey in the western China

In: Energy Strategy Reviews 30, 100520

Energy service companies (ESCOs) play a crucial role in building the energy efficiency retrofit sector. However, limited access to green financing has prevented ESCOs in their expansions in China. This paper, based on a survey of 469 samples and on-site visiting to and interviewing 50 actors of ESCOs, financial institutions and local housing authorities, identifies main barriers of accessing green financing at both systemic policy level and operational meso and micro level in China, and analyses good practices at local level that overcome the barriers. The paper concludes that, although there are barriers existing at the policy level in China, substantial attentions and priorities should be given to take actions for overcoming the barriers existing at the operational meso and micro level. The paper suggests that the good practices of capacity building for ESCOs and local financial sector, intensifying participation of intermediate organisations or facilitators and diversifying financial sources and funding mechanisms and models that emerge from the local level should be disseminated in China.

Nicole Stein, Stefan Spinler, Helga Vanthournout, Vered Blass (2020). Consumer Perception of Online Attributes in Circular Economy Activities

In: Sustainability 12, 1914

Online shopping was already popular before the Corona pandemic. During the pandemic, the trend intensified even more and it seems safer to have packages delivered to one's home and avoid retail stores. Despite more packaging and logistics, this can also be an advantage for circular economy businesses - provided they know how best to use their websites. Circular economy business models include sharing economy giants such as "Airbnb" or rental models such as "Rent-The-Runway", as well as corporate activities that operate in the field of recycling and upcycling of products or services. Some of the companies operate only online, but so far little research has been done on such circular economy models and their specificities. For this reason, Nicole Stein, Researcher in the Matrial Loops Research Unit at the Wuppertal Institute, Stefan Spinler from the WHU Otto Beisheim School of Management, Helga Vanthournout from Wealth of Flows Consulting Ltd and Vered Blass from the Porter School of the Environment and Earth Sciences at Tel Aviv University in their article "Consumer Perception of Online Attributes in Circular Economy Activities" evaluate whether experiences with circular economy activities such as lending, sharing, recycling and upcycling influence perceptions and preferences in the construction of a website. Nine attributes of online presences were selected and are ranked in relation to each other. For example, customers perceive certifications and customer ratings as particularly relevant when selecting online shops. In addition, people who have no previous knowledge of the circular economy would like more information on this business model. "Therefore, in addition to a product-based orientation of the target group, it is also recommended to include previous experience – or the lack thereof in the context of circular economy models in online activities," says Nicole Stein.

Stefan Werland (2020). Diffusing Sustainable Urban Mobility Planning in the EU

In: Sustainability 12, 8436

This paper explores how the European Commission promotes the concept of Sustainable Urban Mobility Planning (SUMP) among European cities. Despite the strong uptake of the SUMP concept, mobility-related problems persist in European municipalities. Linking theoretical approaches to understand the diffusion of policies with empirical findings from working with cities in the SUMP context, this article explores channels of policy diffusion and investigates shortcomings related to the respective approaches. Studies on the diffusion, the transfer and the convergence of policies identify formal hierarchy, coercion, competition, learning and networking, and the diffusion of international norms as channels for policy transfer. The findings which are presented in this paper are twofold: First, the paper finds evidence that the Commission takes on different roles and uses all mechanisms in parallel, albeit with different intensity. It concludes that the approaches to explain policy diffusion are not competing or mutually exclusive but are applied by the same actor to address different aspects of a policy field, or to reach out to different actors. Second, the article provides first evidence of factors that limit the mechanisms' abilities to directly influence urban mobility systems and mobility behaviour.

Wolfgang Obergassel, Lukas Hermwille, Sebastian Oberthür (2020). Harnessing international climate governance to drive a sustainable recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic

In: Climate Policy

Governments around the world are responding to the crisis triggered by the COVID 19 pandemic with extensive stimulus packages. The design of these stimulus packages will also determine key framework conditions for future climate policy: The stimulus packages can either provide a strong impetus for a climate-friendly economy or cement unsustainable economic practices. In the new, revised article "Harnessing international climate governance to drive a sustainable recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic," Wolfgang Obergassel, Co-Head of the Global Climate Governance Research Unit, Lukas Hermwille, Senior Researcher in the same research unit, and Sebastian Oberthür from the Free University of Brussels discuss how international climate policy can contribute to a green recovery. The article was published in English in the journal "Climate Policy" and is a further developed version of the Wuppertal Institute's discussion paper from June 2020.

Further Top Ten

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

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