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MAXWELL Report Summary

Project ID: 657865
Funded under: H2020-EU.1.3.2.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - MAXWELL (Maximising wellbeing and minimising emissions: backcasting social visions for a low-carbon Europe.)

Reporting period: 2015-09-14 to 2017-09-13

Summary of the context and overall objectives of the project

The science of climate change demands radical long-term reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In supporting this, EU policy is committed to develop a low-carbon future by 2050. Key to meeting this target is the contribution of energy and material consumption, and both analysis and policy development have been prioritised. The central planks of mitigation practices globally include technological change and efficiency. However, it is widely acknowledged that the challenge of mitigation fundamentally requires more, as emissions are dependent on the wider development path and underlying driving forces. Within these concepts exists not only the challenges of more complex analysis, but the opportunity of new ways to reduce the impacts of our society and economy on the environment. A promising but neglected option is to look at the social structures that underlie our material consumption.
The perception of mitigation policy is of one cost and loss, but there is potential to deliver mitigation while improving peoples´ lives, to maximise wellbeing and minimise emissions. This study backcasts scenarios of social wellbeing in a low-carbon Europe of 2050, and of how to achieve transition. It begins with the contested links between wellbeing and consumption. The study is a first, adopting interdisciplinary alternative perspectives rather than a unifying theory. These perspectives are then used to develop an original contribution, different visions of wellbeing in the EU of 2050. The energy and emissions implications of social scenarios that entail lower material consumption are unknown, this study is original in quantifying their contribution through modelling. The proposed study is novel and highly innovative addressing priority gaps in knowledge. It dovetails important contributions to sustainability transformation research, with the needs of European society and policy.

Work performed from the beginning of the project to the end of the period covered by the report and main results achieved so far

This research has evolved over the period of the fellowship from 2015 to 2017. The initial promise of the concept and its implications provide fertile ground for the growth of original and innovative new knowledge in 21st sustainability transformation. The research has led to two key innovations; i) the development of the new concept of 'integrated sustainable wellbeing' and ii) a step-change in sustainability transformation modelling. This has direct relevance for improving the outcomes of EU social, environmental and economic development policy. With global implications it has received international attention. There were research stays at the Demand Centre (Unviersity of Lancaster) and Princeton Environment Institute in 2016. Seminars were held on sustainable wellbeing with knowledge exchange on social practices in transition at Demand. The use of wellbeing approaches in development was explored at with PEI and the Woodrow Wilson School of Public Policy. Late 2016 saw a keynote address at the ICEEES 2016 conference in Lahore and an interview in the national Pakistani daily the Express Tribune. MAXWELL has also led to the development of an innovative new emissions footprinting scenario model.
In all there were eight conference presentations and seminars against the three planned. With four peer-reviewed journal articles envisaged, two have been submitted and three are in process. Work will be disseminated through standard green-access channels such as research gate, through social media and through an article envisaged in the UK Guardian newspaper. Work is also ongoing to see that the legacy plan for MAXWELL is effective. The new model is currently the subject of further research proposals at the Finland Future Research Centre.

Progress beyond the state of the art and expected potential impact (including the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project so far)

The transdisciplinary synthesis of conceptions of wellbeing, links to material consumption and the wellbeing pathways to prioritise multidimensional 'sustainable wellbeing' are beyond the current state of the art. The expected impact is catalysis of a new approach to reducing material consumption in the EU. The potential impact, ranges from the initial catalysis of a new and promising research line, to actual new policy initiatives at Member State and EU level. The need to change lifestyles has been acknowledged in EU discussions, this research offers a promising new approach to begin this process.

It became clear that 21st sustainability modelling requires an integrated systems approach to be captured in a model scenario quantification, similar to the conclusions of the IPCC. Existing global mitigation does not address consumption scenarios or links to energy. Rather than seeking to fit the research question to the modelling, the modelling was to the research question. The core problematique of emissions globally are the rates of 'material consumption' particularly amongst the affluent. Material consumption directly drives emissions through the act of consuming natural resources and also drives the consumption of energy. It therefore became evident that while the original intention to model the energy implications of different material consumption futures in the EU is an important question that needs appropriate study, the direct emissions implications of different material consumption futures is a more fundamental question. MAXWELL has developed a new modelling approach that combines Environmentally-Extended Input Output (EEIO) modelling with wellbeing/consumption scenarios (addressing both questions). Globally, it appears to be the only one its kind globally in existence. It permits scenario modelling of material and energy consumption for the EU, and while fitting neatly with the research objectives it also goes beyond. The model allows not just 'territorial based' accounts of emissions within EU borders, but 'consumption-based' accounts of the full emissions footprint of the activities within the EU (including emissions embodied in trade). This set of innovations in MAXWELL has great potential to advance the study of EU sustainability transitions, to enhance the evidence base for policy, and crucially to assist in the identification of future win-win pathways for EU strategy development.

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