Imperial College London

New research shows true value of cooperation in the fight against climate change


Global collaboration

Imperial researchers have developed a new model for identifying the most cost-effective collective approach towards carbon mitigation.

In the context of President Trump’s recent withdrawal from the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, the paper uses the United States as a case study to illustrate the potential applications of ERCOM (Emission Reduction Cooperation Model) at both a regional and global level.

The findings were published in the high-impact journal Energy & Environmental Science by an international research collaborative involving Imperial College Londonthe University of Manchester and Carnegie Mellon University.

An optimal approach to climate change mitigation

In essence, ERCOM works by using standard equations to model the energy system designed to meet specific reliability of energy supply, together with a set of constraints that enable the assessment of the benefits of cooperation when implementing COabatement strategies.

Taking into consideration the regional availability of a range of energy resources (e.g. coal, natural gas, solar, wind), the model can identify the potential for states to co-operate through electricity trading and the sharing of emission targets.

In doing so, ERCOM is able to identify the most cost-effective collection action towards carbon mitigation for different levels of cooperation.

Case study: United States

Using the United States as an illustrative case study, the report explores the benefits of inter-state cooperation in a range of scenarios.

Significantly, when ERCOM is applied in a “no cooperation” context (i.e. states act independently from one another, meeting their individual targets without trading electricity), the total reduction in CO2 emissions (67%) is almost double the overall reduction target (35%) set out in the U.S. Clean Power Plan (CPP). This is achieved solely through exploiting the economic competitiveness of low-carbon options, resulting in the reduction of both CO2 emissions and overall electricity costs.

We believe our framework has great potential to spur cooperation at the international level

– Dr Gonzalo Guillén Gosálbez

Reader in Process Systems Engineering

When the model is applied in a “full cooperation” context (i.e. all states trade electricity and also share emissions targets), the overall reduction in the cost of electricity amounts to a saving of more than $33 billion USD per year. In addition, overall CO2 emissions would be decreased by 70%, again exceeding considerably the 35% target set out in the CPP.

The paper’s findings suggest that, in contrast to the arguments put forward by the Trump Administration, a collaborative approach to climate change mitigation brings significant benefits to both the environment and economy.

Implications: carbon mitigation and costs

In the “no cooperation” scenario, where the only means of reducing carbon emissions is through switching to low-carbon electricity, the paper acknowledges that this would lead to an imbalance between states emitting below or above their CPP targets, in order to attain an overall reduction in emissions.

In addition, whilst the majority of states would benefit from moving to a “full cooperation” scenario, it is notable that certain states would be penalised at an individual level in order to attain the most cost-effective nationwide outcome. For instance, Oklahoma would incur additional costs by increasing its electricity generation to supply neighbouring states and satisfy demand, due to its significant wind power potential. This would also apply to Florida and Nevada due to their capacity to exploit their solar resources.

The report acknowledges that in such a scenario, appropriate mechanisms and policies would be required to prevent penalised states from leaving the partnership, and to incentivise cooperation. It suggests that the resulting economic benefits should be shared fairly among all states in order to maintain engagement in collective action.

New approaches to collective action against climate change

Given that conflicting interests often prevent “global optimality” in approaches to climate change mitigation, the paper suggests that by using optimisation tools such as ERCOM, there is the potential for greater transparency of the benefits of cooperation at an inter-state level.

The report acknowledges that despite savings in cost and emissions derived from cooperation, translating agreements into practical actions might still pose a number of challenges due to the existence of multiple stakeholders with conflicting goals, and differences in regulations at a regional level. It suggests that some form of centralised body and regulatory framework would be essential in managing the interests of private and public bodies, in conjunction with enacting the optimal energy scheme identified by ERCOM.

Dr Gonzalo Guillén Gosálbez, the paper’s last author who led the work, commented: “While we used the U.S. as a case study to test and refine the capabilities of our approach, we do believe our framework has great potential to spur cooperation at the international level, eventually leading to win-win scenarios in which emissions are reduced in the most cost-effective manner via cooperation among countries.”

“The enormous potential benefits derived from cooperation in the U.S. are indeed a significant stimulus to keep on working on similar cooperative approaches in the transition towards a more sustainable world.”

“Here at Imperial College London, we have the perfect environment to develop such methods via multi-disciplinary cutting-edge research in complementary domains of science and engineering.”       

Read the article in full online

Find out more about Dr Gonzalo Guillén Gosálbez's research



Genevieve Timmins

Genevieve Timmins
Faculty of Medicine Centre

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