Energy & Climate Change

The Energy & Climate Change research area focuses on the interactions between energy production, greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution, climate change, and the promotion of technology innovations.

Cleaner air for Europe

IIASA scientists used the new station‐based modeling approach recently added to their GAINS modeling suite, to compare current levels of ambient fine particulate matter (PM2.5) with those expected in 2030 if measures suggested by the European Union’s 2013 Clean Air Policy Package (CAPP) are implemented.

The researchers found that implementing the CAPP would lead to a decrease in urban roadside concentrations of PM2.5 by roughly a factor of two, and even more in some member states. Most member states would reach levels close to or even below the PM2.5 guideline value of 10µg/m3 of the World Health Organization (WHO) and well below the current European Union’s target value of 25µg/m3, due to become a limit value in 2015. However, uncoordinated national actions by individual member states would not, it was found, be sufficient to attain even the WHO target.

Technology innovations

Energy & Climate Change scientists were contributors to, and edited, the book Energy Technology Innovation: Learning from Historical Successes and Failures published by Cambridge University Press in 2014. Through 20 case studies, the book assesses the relative success and failure of policy and entrepreneurial efforts to promote energy technology innovation.

Research for the book used the Energy Technology Innovation System (ETIS) framework, developed at IIASA, a novel systems-based approach to understanding technology innovation that is applicable beyond energy- and climate-related technologies.


Climate change assessment

IIASA scientists made extensive contributions to the negotiations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 2014. Nineteen IIASA scientists from six programs and two IIASA Council members contributed to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, published in 2014.

IIASA scientists played a leading role in the 2014 Emissions Gap Report of the United Nations Environment Programme, which assesses whether emissions pledges made by countries during the international climate negotiations are on track to limit temperature increase to 2ºC or less this century. The Gap Report is among the most highly cited documents in country interventions in international climate negotiations and a source of essential information for decision makers. By providing timely updates on climate change to the international climate research and policy communities, it critically supports and influences the international climate policy process.

Soot in the city

A fundamental reorientation of conventional policy approaches is needed to improve air quality in cities, according to 2014 research by IIASA scientists and international collaborators.

Urban air quality cannot be improved just by local traffic management. Harmful fine particulate matter (PM2.5), even in street canyons, comes from more distant sources, often hundreds of kilometers away. Around 40-50% of PM2.5 in urban areas in Europe and Asia was found to be mainly from agricultural sources and caused when organic emissions from crops and livestock react in the atmosphere to create secondary inorganic aerosols.

Combustion of solid fuel, like biomass and coal, for heating and cooking in households, is also responsible for typically 20-40% of particle pollution­—usually soot—in European cities, and even more in developing countries. Reducing particle emissions will have positive impacts on health and living conditions and curb overall temperature increase in the near term.

IIASA scientists affirmed that a wide range of regional pollution control options covering all particle precursor emission sources across numerous economic sectors are readily available at quite modest costs.

Fracking risks

A cross-cutting multi-model study by IIASA programs and international collaborators has shown that extraction and use of inexpensive natural gas from atypical geological locations with horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing—“fracking”—may induce further climate change. The study, which used IIASA’s MESSAGE model, was published in Nature.

As inexpensive natural gas emits half the CO2 of coal, many hoped natural gas use could help slow climate change. However, the IIASA collaborative study shows that exploiting the current bounty of inexpensive natural gas will accelerate economic growth and expand overall energy use and emissions, unless very stringent climate policies are in place. Although cost-competitive with higher-emitting coal, the natural gas—mainly methane—would also compete with lower-emitting nuclear and renewable energy technologies, such as wind and solar.