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The cost and benefits of low-carbon transition
Speaker Name
Prof. SUH Sangwon
Speaker Detail

Bren School of Environmental Science and Management
University of California, Santa Barbara

Rm B4302 Yeung Kin Man Academic Building (YEUNG), City University of Hong Kong, Kowloon Tong, Kowloon, Hong Kong

As the economic toll of wildfires, floods, droughts, and sea-level rises grow, so does the concern about the risk of climate change. Government, industry, and investors are increasingly trying to factor the cost of climate change into their decisions. On the one hand, the social cost of climate change under the business as usual case is simply too large as compared to the cost of mitigation through e.g., renewable energy, making aggressive climate change mitigation look like a no brainer. On the other hand, the actual level of effort being made to mitigate climate change cannot explain the seemingly obvious benefits of aggressive low-carbon transition. In this lecture, I will discuss three on-going research projects that aims to better understand the discrepancy. First, I will discuss the renewable energy investment needed for decarbonizing plastics and chemicals. My collaborators and I developed a detailed chemical process simulation model that integrates engineering-level data for 350 chemical processes by each of the 6 global regions. We estimate that decarbonization of plastics and chemicals requires as much as 16 PWh/y of electricity, whereas the current global renewable electricity generation from wind and solar combined makes only 1.2 PWh/y. Second, I will discuss the results of an on-going study on the additional cost burden to the U.S. rate payers of electricity under decarbonization scenarios based on dynamic electricity grid mix simulation, Regional Energy Deployment System (ReEDS) model of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). Third, I will talk about another ongoing study on the low-carbon transition costs and geopolitical structure of winners and losers of climate mitigation based on stranded assets and social costs of carbon under various scenarios. These series of analyses elucidate why bold actions against climate change mitigation is not happening despite the economic viability and clear net benefits of climate mitigation. Our analysis highlights the need of a mechanism under which cost and benefit burdens across generations and geographies are more evenly distributed in order to mobilize expeditious actions against climate change.

About the Speaker

Dr. Sangwon Suh is a full professor in industrial ecology at the University of California, Santa Barbara and the director of the Chemical Life Cycle Collaborative (CLiCC) Initiative. Professor Suh's research concerns the interface between technology and the environment and their interactions through the exchanges of natural resources and pollutants. His research contributed to the mathematical foundations, analytical methodologies, and practical applications of life cycle assessment (LCA). Professor Suh co-authored the Greenhouse Gas Protocol standard developed by the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD). Professor Suh is the Editor-in-Chief of the Frontiers in Sustainability, and he serves editorial boards of the International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment and the Journal of Industrial Ecology. He served the International Resource Panel (IRP) of the UN Environment and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). He received the McKnight Land-Grant Professorship from the University of Minnesota’s Board of Regents, Leontief Memorial Prize and the Richard Stone Prize from the International Input-Output Association (IIOA), the Robert A. Laudise Medal from the International Society for Industrial Ecology (ISIE), and Distinguished Teaching Award from the Bren school. Professor Suh was recognized as one of the '2018 Highly Cited Researchers' by Clarivate Analytics that lists the top 1% most cited researchers in all fields of science.