Ensuring wellbeing and access to essential and social services is why society requires materials and energy. The seminar organized by IIASA and RITE discussed different aspects of technological, social, and infrastructural innovations that can deeply reduce demand for energy and stimulate a just transition to net-zero societies.

On 17 November 2022, the Energy Demand Changes Induced by Technological and Social Innovations (EDITS) network participated in a side-event to the 27th Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC (COP27) on "High wellbeing with low energy demand towards a modern net-zero society" organized by IIASA and the Research Institute of Innovative Technology for the Earth (RITE).

COP27 was hosted by Egypt in Sharm El-Sheikh with a view to building on previous successes and paving the way for future ambition to effectively tackle the global challenge of climate change. The vision of Egypt's COP27 presidency was to progress from negotiations and planning to implementation, moving rapidly towards full, timely, inclusive, and at-scale action on the ground.

You can rewatch the presentations and discussions at the side-event "High wellbeing with low energy demand towards a modern net-zero society" below. The event was moderated by Joyashree Roy, Asian Institute of Technology (AIT), Thailand.

10:30-10:35    Welcome from the moderator

Ensuring well-being and access to essential and social services is why society requires materials and energy. Technological, social and infrastructural innovations can deeply reduce demand for energy and stimulate a just transition. The event moderator Joyashree Roy, Asian Institute of Technology (AIT), Thailand, pointed out that implementing demand-side solutions and drastically reducing the energy consumption globally “does not mean shifting the responsibility of climate mitigation to people, but on the contrary, it is about empowering people by providing access to right infrastructure, access to technology and incentives.” Many new cities will be built in the developing world so there is huge opportunity to build them for inclusive growth by avoiding locking in unsustainability.

10:30-10:45    Opening remarks and the background of the Energy Demand changes Induced by Technological and Social innovations (EDITS) network  
Keigo Akimoto, Research Institute of Innovative Technology for the Earth (RITE), Japan

Keigo Akimoto, Research Institute of Innovative Technology for the Earth (RITE), Japan, opened the event and introduced the Energy Demand changes Induced by Technological and Social innovations (EDITS) network, which is a global collaboration across disciplines to identify gaps and potentials to enhance modeling, analyzing, and communicating the demand-side solutions of the energy and material systems for better and easier climate mitigation and the SDGs. He showed that ”digitalization and the related innovations could induce rapid changes in our society, reduce several resources and the embedded energy consumptions.” Societies and businesses are constantly changing, thus a number of megaternds, such as urbanization, circular and sharing economy, along with digitalization could be reaped for the benefits to achieve cheaper costs for deep emissions reduction.

10:45-11:00    Importance of demand side solutions for the transformation towards net-zero society
Bas van Ruijven, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), Austria

Bas van Ruijven, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), Austria talked about the energy system leverage effects of demand-side solutions and said that a “low energy demand development reduces dependence on uncertain and unknown carbon dioxide removal technologies (CDR), reduces trade-offs between mitigation and SDGs, particularly biodiversity and food security, and offers increased flexibility for critical choices on the energy supply side.

11:00-11:15    Innovation and digitalization: the levers of transformation
Elena Verdolini, European Institute on Economics and the Environment (RFF-CMCC), Italy

Elena Verdolini, European Institute on Economics and the Environment (RFF-CMCC), Italy explained that “technological innovation is a crucial component of any mitigation strategy. While the IPCC WGIII report finds that about half of the emissions reductions required until 2030 to remain below 2 degrees can be achieved with technologies that are currently available, and with costs of less than 100$/tCO2, the rest of emission reductions will need to come from novel technologies. Digital technologies offer many opportunities to promote energy efficiency, coordinate demand-response solutions, and increase our ability to implement efficient mitigation strategies, including through stakeholder's participation.” But she extended that the risks must be mangaged through appropriate and strong policies, for instance to avoid ”manipulation of the public, side-tracking the mitigation agenda, increase in distrust, and the wrongful use of data.”

11:15-11:30    Urban space and society in 2050 in balance with planetary boundaries
Diana Ürge-Vorsatz, Central European University (CEU), IPCC WG3 Co-Vice chair

Diana Ürge-Vorsatz, Central European University (CEU), IPCC WG3 Co-Vice chair talked about the opportunities from urban space and society in 2050. Cities can be a “source of social inclusion and well-being, local communities and local economic activity and productivity, as well as physical and mental health”.

11:30-12:00    Moderated panel discussion with speakers: the expected technological, institutional, behavioral and infrastructural innovations and their feasibility

The panel discussed that in developed country cities most technological, social, business (model) innovations are needed for rethinking and restructuring existing urban form, repurposing, retrofitting, repairing and reusing existing infrastructure, vehicle stocks and equipment rather having to build/produce new ones. As stated by Dr Akimoto and agreed by all speakers, there is a lot of research and policy leverage through ”better understanding of the potential changes and contribution to emissions reduction in parallel with the achievement of multiple SDGs through comprehensive analyses” that should induce engagement by everyone from consumers, through industrial actors, to policymakers”.

You may also be interested in the recording of another EDITS side-event at the COP27, organized by IIASA and RITE in collaboration with Development Alternatives (DA) (click here for more information).

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