This icon search is  powered by Algolia

Home > Database > Sensitive intervention points in the post-carbon transition

Sensitive intervention points in the post-carbon transition

J. D. Farmer, C. Hepburn, M. C. Ives, T. Hale, T. Wetzer, P. Mealy, R. Rafaty, S. Srivastav, and R. Way (2019)

Link to paper

Redline summary

The article examines the ways in which sensitive intervention points (‘SIPS’), informed by concepts from complex systems theory, can be exploited to accelerate the low-carbon transition. The article gives examples of four SIPs that have the potential to cause ‘kicks’ (moving the system onto a new trajectory without changing underlying dynamics) or ‘shifts’ (a change to the underlying system dynamic), magnifying the impact of the SIP and amplifying change towards rapid decarbonisation. The four SIPs explored are: financial disclosures, technological investments, political mobilisation and the UK Climate Change Act. 

With respect to financial disclosures, the article suggests that current reporting on climate risks is inadequate and that a change in accounting standards could substantially reprice fossil assets. This, in turn, would reduce the development of new oil and gas fields, including by reducing investments in those assets and by redirecting investment towards renewable energy. On technological investments, the article notes the risk that incumbent technologies remain “stuck” because renewables are initially more expensive. However, it notes this risk can be avoided where far-sighted public investors invest in renewable energy technologies (which seem more responsive to the market) as early as possible to make them cheaper. With respect to political mobilisation, the article suggests political entrepreneurs can mobilise change by demonstrating to the majority that their beliefs are more popular than they thought. There is potential for a small kick to increase the political salience of climate action where there is a strong committed minority that brings along a latent majority. The UK Climate Act presents an example of SIP triggering a shift, as the Act set out new policy concepts for governing climate change, influencing the Paris Agreement and climate legislation in other countries. 

The article suggests further work is required to identify potential SIPs and characterise the system dynamics so the SIP can be designed well.  

The article demonstrates the potential for one policy intervention to trigger a kick or a shift in the global climate system, with great effects on climate mitigation efforts globally. It can be used to support an argument on the potential positive climate impact of rejecting fossil fuel projects, beyond influencing immediate supply and demand factors through the price mechanism. 

Paper Categories

Related Papers

A project of University College London

Proudly supported by

UCL Grand Challenges

Project partners