An Interview with Paul EkinsWe Can Do It – From a Scientific Perspective
What is unique about scenario 1?
We called it Global Cooperation for a good reason. This is a world in which countries recognize that as indeed stated in the Brundtland report Our common future back in 1988 that there is only one earth and in order to live satisfactorily on it, nine billion people need to find ways to cooperate. In this scenario they have found ways to cooperate. It’s not so much a question of inventing new globally cooperative institutions. We have a lot of these institutions already, but it is a question of making them work much more effectively. So we’re talking about making the United Nations and all the various treaties, peace-keeping arrangements, multilateral environmental arrangements etc. much more effective. We’re talking about making regional cooperating bodies like the EU more effective and of course we still are in a world of nation states with member states of the UN and the EU. But in our scenario member states recognise that their future and their prosperity is very much bound up in what other member states do and are therefore prepared to cooperate and if necessary to give some of their sovereignty to higher levels of governance in order that governance can be used more effectively for the world as a whole.
Could you please compare Global Cooperation with the other two POLFREE scenarios?
In this scenario the global level clearly plays a very important role. We’re already seeing at the Paris summit on climate change that countries are coming with their national commitments for emission reductions and the Global Cooperation scenario very much envisages that those commitments will be made more stringent in forthcoming years; that the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change will have the capacity to record those more stringent commitments; that countries will then act back at home, domestically, in order to reach the targets and commitments that they’ve made at the global level, so that global emissions peak soon after 2020 and start to fall thereafter arriving at zero sometime between 2050 and 2100. That is the major difference in this scenario to the other ones.
With regard to the other resources such as water for example obviously different world regions and different countries will need to tackle their water problems in their own way. These are not global and planetary problems but national, regional and local problems that have to do with water. But obviously a globally cooperative framework is very helpful for such water resources as shared rivers; some of the great rivers of the world go through many different countries and clearly all the countries where they go through are interested in having some use of that water and that needs to be a cooperative arrangement agreed cooperatively if we are to avoid conflicts over water resources in the future. If we look at materials, similarly, they are spread out unequally over the earth, occur in different places, are mined in different places and then go into global markets and are traded. It is very much in the global interest that this global trade occurs in a cooperative and orderly way rather than countries trying to use their own possession of certain resources as some kind of scarcity weapon in order to secure their interests in the world, which as we have seen in the 20th century can only lead to global conflict and everyone ending up worse-off. So although global carbon emissions reduction is the main differentiating factor in this scenario, also in respect of water, metals, minerals and land, it will make a big difference to have a globally cooperative world.
Europe cannot resolve the climate change issue by itself. Therefore this Global Cooperation scenario is one that attains the 2 degree centigrade guardrail limit of average global warming.
What is the major outcome of Global Cooperation?
The outcome is different from the other two scenarios. Hence there is effective mitigation of climate change because the whole world community decides to reduce carbon emissions as well as going towards much more resource efficiency. In the other two scenarios, Europe does it more or less by itself. European carbon emissions fall dramatically but of course those in the rest of the world do not. And Europe cannot resolve the climate change issue by itself. Therefore this Global Cooperation scenario is one that attains the 2 degree centigrade guardrail limit of average global warming. The other two scenarios head much more towards 4 degrees centigrade with all the huge uncertainties of potentially catastrophic outcomes that that entails. So this undoubtedly is the most globally secure scenario from a climate change point of view.
What does the economy in Global Cooperation look like?
It’s really very interesting and that obviously is a big research question in this project because we didn’t know the answer to that until we had looked at the policies and had put them into the economic model that we used for this project. Now, the first thing to be said about economic models going forward to 2050 is that they are indeed very uncertain. And no one would like to treat them as any kind of prediction of the future as to what that world is going to be like. On the other hand they do give insights into whether it looks as if that kind of world is technologically feasible, whether that kind of world is economically feasible and whether it looks like some of the basic institutional structures which we currently understand, like markets, can keep on working.
I think the modelling that we have done is pretty reassuring on that, in the sense that a more resource-efficient world is certainly technologically feasible. We have the technologies that we need in order to become much more resource efficient to meet the targets that we set in 2050 already. On the economics of it, on very plausible assumptions about the cost reductions of the various technologies of resource efficiency and the way in which they can be rolled out and implemented it looks as if in straight income terms measured by GDP we can be more or less as well-off as we are today and indeed perhaps even more well-off than we are today and certainly better-off than we will be if continue to use resources very wastefully. That is a very positive message coming out of the economy.
Our lives will change in a way that we become much more aware of our use of resources and we use them much more efficiently. In many ways our experience of life will be very similar to what it is today though
What does this mean in terms of every day living?
In Europe we currently throw away one third of the food that we buy. We will not do that in 2050 if we are living resource efficiently, partly because we will have very good recycling systems, partly because we will have strong regulations for promoting recycling and penalties for not abiding by them and partly because food will be more expensive then – therefore we will not want to throw as much of it away as we currently do. Our lives will change in a way that we become much more aware of our use of resources and we use them much more efficiently. In terms of our ability to travel, to eat well and healthily, to live in well-built environments that are warm in winter and adequately cool in summer, our experience of life will be very similar to what it is today though.
How about work in 2050?
By assumption we assumed that in the Civil Society Leads scenario people would be less concerned about having a full-time job – which very often is more than full-time- and leaves them very little time at home with their families, the ability to enjoy their communities, to contribute to their communities. So we assume in Civil Society Leads that people choose to work less at their jobs, therefore get less income and choose to work more in an informal way with their families and communities. Some people might call that more leisure time; I prefer to think of it as much more informal working. The Global Cooperation scenario on the other hand is very much a market-driven scenario; it’s a scenario in which global markets still work very much as they do today; they have very different price incentives, so that the price incentives to use resources efficiently are very strong. Most people still work in full-time jobs, get income from those jobs and then pay for the kinds of goods and services at home, which we are very familiar with today though.
I think that all the scenarios will have very different buildings than we have today. In many ways buildings need to evolve in a similar direction in all these scenarios because they all need to use much less energy in order to keep warm in winter and cool in summer, and they all need to be built with materials which use much less energy and particularly carbon-based energy in order to construct them; I’m thinking of in particular cement. Most of the buildings that will exist in Europe in 2050 have already been built. Therefore it is very important that the current building stock becomes much more energy-efficient. That is not easy to achieve and all the countries that I know in the EU are struggling with that to some extent.
At the same time we know that it is technically possible and that the barriers to this achievement of more energy-efficient buildings have much more to do with institutions, skills and the structure of the construction industry in different countries than to do with the technical ability to make these houses more energy-efficient. Therefore I think that all the scenarios will move more in that direction; perhaps the Global Cooperation scenario will move in a direction where buildings become much more globally conceived but nevertheless appropriate for their local context because obviously an appropriate building in southern Spain is very different to an appropriate building in Finland; they will have to be insulated and looked after in very different ways in those different climates.
How will mobility be organised?
In Global Cooperation people will experience mobility in very much the same quantity as they do today in terms of the billions of kilometres that people travel, but they will travel in very different vehicles. Firstly, there won’t be internal combustion engines to anything like the same extent that there are today. This is a huge change because the internal combustion engine was one of the iconic inventions of the 20th century – but it’s quite clear that it depends on fossil fuels. The carbon emissions cannot be captured and therefore we will have to move away from that kind of motor power. The alternatives are pretty clear already: we’re talking about electric vehicles, via transition through hybrid vehicles, and perhaps by 2040 we’re talking about hydrogen fuel cell vehicles taking over from the internal combustion engine where the hydrogen is produced in a carbon-free way.
The dominance of the personal vehicle, especially the internal combustion engine personal vehicle, will be something that we’ll look back on from 2050 like we look back on the horse and cart today.
Those are still personal vehicles…
We can also expect that there will be much better public transport systems, particularly in cities, and I would expect that the kind of trends we’ve seen over the last 10 or 15 years, of the increasing pedestrianisation of cities as well as the increasing provision of facilities for cyclists, I can envisage that that will continue, so that by 2050 driving a personal vehicle of any kind in a city will be perceived to be rather antisocial as you’re taking a lot of space that could be used for other things and for much healthier means of transport that actually keep the body working but which also are much more friendly to pedestrians and cyclists.
There will then be high speed rail systems, undoubtedly, across the EU, so that people will still be able to travel quite far distances pretty quickly. The use of aviation will be much reduced across those kinds of distances because aviation is a very difficult sector to decarbonise. Within the EU I can imagine that dominant transport modes are high speed rail for inter-country travel, slower speed rail for within a country travel and then within cities very largely walking and cycling with some addition of obviously personal vehicles for those with mobility constraints, for the ones who have emergency services in need or for deliveries for shops etc. The dominance of the personal vehicle, especially the internal combustion engine personal vehicle, will be something that we’ll look back on from 2050 like we look back on the horse and cart today.
How will we produce our food?
I think the most important change with regard to agriculture quite apart from the food waste issue is the reduction of our meat consumption. In the EU most food waste is consumer food waste – although there is some waste in the production system from cosmetic requirements for vegetables to conform to some sort of ‘ideal’ shape. I very much hope that shoppers start showing supermarkets that those sorts of criteria are both unnecessary and unacceptable, so that they can be phased out quite quickly, and we can start making the best use of all the food that is produced.
How much meat are we going to eat?
It’s perfectly clear that if the whole world were to eat as much meat as the average European diet then undoubtedly we would find very significant constraints on food production in the absence of a second and third agricultural revolution which increases by a very great amount the amount of food that we can produce on any given area of land. Precisely how those vegetables are produced, whether they’re produced in relatively intensive production systems leaving quite a lot of land available for other purposes, perhaps for biodiversity, or whether they’re produced more extensively, perhaps through organic farming methods, I think is still very much an open question and is one which I certainly have not made up my own mind as to what is more likely. But I think it’s definitely the case that the amount of meat that we eat will need to decrease and the good news about that is that we will all be healthier for it.
There is no single magic policy bullet. Instead, we will see policy mixes and these will need to include policies of different kinds.
The POLFREE approach is to derive policy options – in which way?
We can say a few things in general about policies: firstly, there is no single magic policy bullet. Instead, we will see policy mixes and these will need to include policies of different kinds, so they will need to include economic instruments that act directly on the prices of the raw materials that we want to make more efficient use of; there will be need to be regulations, information instruments, research and development policies to encourage innovation into various energy efficiency technologies and voluntary agreements with various industrial sectors to stimulate them to move to a more resource-efficient direction.
Then we know that at the EU level we need to have broad overarching instruments such as a need for eco-design. Another broad principle would be extended producer responsibility; the need for producers to take much greater responsibility for the end-of-life period of the product that they produce. Then we need broad EU targets. They’ve been enormously effective and important in the waste area and there was a proposal from the European Commission that we should have an EU target for an improvement for the rate of increase of resource productivity and I very much hope that that will continue to come through from the European Commission. But then once we’re beyond these broad targets actual policies will be needed to be implemented to reach the targets; this will remain the preserve of the member states, because the policies will need to be tailored to their specific contexts.
Which role will these member states have to play?
We’ve done a lot of research in POLFREE into policy at both the European and member state level. It’s perfectly clear that it’s the member states and the levels of governance below member states, the municipalities, which have the major task of actually implementing the policies that will cause more efficient resource use. At national level there needs to be environmental taxation. I’ve already mentioned those kinds of economic instruments that make resource use more expensive. Regulation will need to be applied at the national but also at the municipal level. Then there need to be industrial strategies, which may be implemented at the sectoral level but also by big cities for example, working with the industries in their areas. Building renovation programmes will be probably led at the municipal level because that’s the level at which the greatest understanding of the kinds of buildings in their areas exist. Therefore we can expect an enormous diversity of policies across a continent like the EU that are appropriate to the national and local context but all fit within this broad European framework and of course conform and do not undermine the single market which is one of the very important reasons for why the European Union was created.
That depends to a large extent on how innovation develops. But for consumers who like to use products for a reasonably long period of time, who like products to be repaired and to be repairable and who are prepared to take care with their use of resources so that they don’t waste them all the evidence suggests that they will actually be better-off financially in a more circular economy which seeks to make multiple uses of natural resources rather than a linear economy which simply digs them out of the ground, uses them once and then puts them back into the ground in some way. You would expect the circular economy to be more economically efficient in the long term, especially in the context of rising resource scarcity, than the linear economy model. That indeed is what our economic modelling tends to show.
Who are the political drivers?
An important point to be made about all three scenarios is that we’re living in democracies and that means that the citizens elect the policy makers who act on their behalf and who also work with businesses to achieve outcomes that the citizens find acceptable. So they’re all democratic outcomes. Some of them do have a higher proportion of their policies coordinated at higher levels of governance, United Nations, European Union etc. But that is very much with citizen consent because citizens perceive that is the most efficient way of organising these sorts of affairs in an increasingly globalised world. But in the bottom-up scenario there clearly is more direct citizen action. Obviously it’s not the case though that citizens can do everything themselves at the local level; there needs to be coordination at the municipal, national and global level. All three scenarios are democratic, the citizen has the ultimate say and agrees with the overall direction of increased resource efficiency but the governance level through which this agreement is pursued, it is that that is different across the scenarios.
Would you please describe the relations between Europe and other regions of the world?
I think it’s a mutually cooperative arrangement in the sense that Europe as a relatively rich part of the world recognises both its responsibility but also its self-interest in encouraging other countries to achieve their own goals and aspirations while recognising that at the same time those goals and aspirations need to be achieved in a globally responsible way where Europe has important technologies to help resource efficiency in other countries. Those technologies can be exported and many of them will be paid for which will help the European economy, but some of them will be the result of international aid whereby the countries are given more resource-efficient technologies in order to develop in a more resource-efficient way and to promote more resource-efficient global development which ultimately will benefit the EU as well.
I’m not a prophet, I’m just a researcher; all I can say is that I know we can do it from a scientific point of view and as a human being I very much hope that we do.
What can you tell us about the likeliness of Global Cooperation?
I think that, if the world is to become more resource efficient, it is likely to do so in ways that incorporate different elements of all three scenarios. There will be some areas where we do get global cooperation and I’m very much hoping that we’re beginning to see that in the climate area now with the Paris meeting and the aftermath of that. There will be some areas where we find cooperation much more difficult and where countries are tempted much more to go it alone. That will be more challenging than obviously getting a globally cooperative solution. There will be bottom-up initiatives, such as the transition towns movement, which will go ahead even if there is a lot of global cooperation because it’s simply something that citizens want to do. We can therefore expect to see a mixture of all these initiatives. If you ask me whether they’re likely to be enough to meet these very demanding resource efficiency targets my answer is: I don’t know. I’m not a prophet, I’m just a researcher; all I can say is that I know we can do it from a scientific point of view and as a human being I very much hope that we do.
What can we learn from Global Cooperation?
All future scenarios are to some extent hypothetical by definition because we don’t know what the future’s going to be, but everything in this scenario incorporates policies that we have experience of, that we know will work if they’re implemented in a sensible sort of way, and we employ technologies which already exist, where we can make intelligent estimates as to what they will cost in the future because these technologies are already sufficiently developed. We are not dreaming up some kind of new magic solutions to our problems which do not currently exist. I think, in that sense, our scenarios are very realistic. They are based on real-life experience and sensible projections for the future on the basis of that experience. Whether or not humanity chooses to move in that direction, to go down that route, that of course is a very different matter. That’s not a matter researchers have very much to say about, though we are citizens like everybody else and can legitimately hope that the world does move in that kind of direction.
I think like all academics and researchers I’m fascinated by the intellectual challenges that this kind of work presents. These are very important issues for humanity at the present time. Of course they’ve been important issues for humanity over many years, resource scarcity was something that was considered by Thomas Malthus back at the end of the 18th century so in a way the subject is not so new – but our current context with 9 ½ billion people alive in 2050 with an enormous middle class component within that and a culture of consumption, that puts very special focus on these issues of resources and resource efficiency. Understanding this and the kind of human motivations and behaviours as well as in particular understanding the policies which may enable resource use to become much more efficient than it has been in the past, to achieve a real step change in resource efficiency; that’s a huge intellectual challenge for a researcher and an academic.
As a person obviously I consider these issues to be terribly important, I think there is an enormous amount of stake as to whether we move away from carbon-based fossil fuels, as to whether we move towards more resource-efficient futures; I think we otherwise run the risk of getting involved in more conflicts and obviously conflict is something which is very bad for human society. Ultimately it could be very bad for human civilization so I think the stakes are very high and therefore both at an intellectual and personal level the incentive and the rewards of being involved in work like this are very great indeed.