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Current green growth policies are not enough to reach Paris Agreement climate targets

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Jonas Sonnenschein Photo: Blaž Samec

New research implies that green growth climate mitigation policies are not sufficient for reaching the ambitious targets of the Paris Agreement, to limit global warming to well below 2°C by the end of the century.

Green growth policies dominate the climate change mitigation discourse but how much can they contribute to rapid decarbonisation? Jonas Sonnenschein at the IIIEE, Lund University, has assessed the effects and the potential of green growth climate mitigation policies in his PhD thesis in order to provide new knowledge on how green growth climate mitigation policies can contribute towards rapid decarbonisation.

- Green growth policies are largely incompatible with rapid reductions of CO2 emissions because they put too strong a focus on economic development, because they frequently disregard people’s actual behaviours, and because they often neglect more stringent policy interventions such as regulations and standards, explains Jonas Sonnenschein.

Findings of the thesis suggest that, so far, green growth policies have not been effective in driving the rapid decarbonisation that is needed to reach the Paris Targets. Two case studies supported this claim, including a study of South Koreas national Green Growth Strategy after the 2008/ 09 Global Financial Crisis and a study of public support to the development of low-carbon energy technologies in the Nordic countries.

- We need to research and suggest climate change mitigation policies that are truly consistent with the Paris Targets to be able to effectively drive the rapid decarbonisation that is needed. The South Korean case has shown that growth-oriented green growth strategies can at best make a dent in the emissions pathway, but more stringent policies are needed to reach the Paris Targets. Weak stringency levels unfortunately lead to insufficient climate mitigation outcomes, states Jonas Sonnenschein.

- Furthermore, the support to low-carbon technology innovation also needs to reflect the need for rapid decarbonisation. The Nordic case study has shown that public financing of research, development and demonstration has been too cautious in the past and focussed on commercial aspects rather than decarbonisation potential, summarizes Jonas Sonnenschein.

Investigating the impact of behavioural factors and mechanisms is central in the thesis and there are different ways these factors and mechanisms can affect the design and choice of green growth climate policies.

- In my thesis I investigated green growth climate policies considering both technology and behavioural change. I found that going beyond technology change, insights about behavioural factors and mechanisms can support policy-making and drive the effectiveness of green growth climate mitigation policies. Technology change as such is not sufficient for climate change mitigation and we need to pay more attention to the impact behavioural insights can have on policy-making, says Jonas Sonnenschein.

One policy that has often been suggested to achieve larger reductions of CO2 emissions is carbon pricing. To understand the behavioural mechanisms in relation to carbon pricing, two case studies were conducted, one that focused on the UK market for energy-efficient appliances, and one on personal transport in Sweden.

- In the case-study in Sweden participants were asked whether and how much they were willing to pay for climate surcharge on air tickets, for a similar surcharge on fuels and finally for offsetting their CO2 emissions voluntarily. It was found that most people were willing to pay for the climate surcharge on air tickets, followed by the surcharge on fuels and voluntary offsetting. My findings show that behavioural insights are valuable instruments to support the design and implementation of green growth climate policies, argues Jonas Sonnenschein.

- My overall findings indicate that, under certain conditions, carbon pricing can be a central element in the green growth climate policy mix. Carbon pricing must be mandatory, comprehensive, create strong price incentive, consider differentiated rates, be framed well, and earmark revenues for climate change mitigation to be able to drive rapid decarbonisation, concludes Jonas Sonnenschein.

Dissertation defence

Jonas Sonnenschein defended his doctoral dissertation Green growth and rapid decarbonisation? Assessing policy objectives, instrument choice and behavioural mechanisms on 29 May, at 9:15 a.m. at the International Institute for Industrial Environmental Economics (IIIEE), Lund University, IIIEE Aula, Tegnérsplatsen 4, Lund.

Opponent was Professor Patrik Söderholm, Luleå University of Technology, Sweden.

The dissertation is available as pdf by clicking on the following link: https://portal.research.lu.se/portal/files/63672044/Sonnenschein_2019_PhD_Thesis_Green_growth_and_rapid_decarbonisation_.pdf

For more information or an interview, please contact:

Jonas Sonnenschein, jonas [dot] sonnenschein [at] iiiee [dot] lu [dot] se,

Mobile phone in Sweden: +46 73 813 2710

Mobile phone in Slovenia: +386 30 767 458

Jonas Sonnenschein in the media

Interview in Aftonbladet

Interview in the Slovenian journal MLADINA

Featuring in an article in Institutet för Framtidsstudier

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