06 Dec.

How do we get from here to net zero?

Academics from across Alliance Manchester Business School took part in the recent Manchester Festival of Climate Action, organised by The University of Manchester, which considered the challenges at the forefront of the climate crisis.

To coincide with the ongoing COP-26 conference, we are showcasing the video sessions involving all AMBS academics over the coming week. In this first film Frank Geels, Professor of System Innovation and Sustainability, discusses how we get from here to net zero.

Professor Geels' presentation discussed the importance of not only focusing on climate targets but also on the need to much better understand the process of change, stressing that low carbon transitions do not start from scratch and that transitions can typically take up to 30, 40 or even 50 years and are characterised by different phases.

As he said: "Initially you have a period of experimentation, followed by stabilisation in small market niches, followed by diffusion into mainstream markets, followed by overthrow and reconfiguration. However low carbon transitions are different to past transitions in that it is not just one single technology that needs to break through. Each system - whether electricity, mobility, or heat - has multiple innovations."

He added that one of the reasons for the success in tackling emissions from electricity, especially in a country such as the UK, has been the emergence of many radical innovations such as solar, wind and biopower, which have been diffused. By contrast in the mobility sector the number of radical innovations remains small, although the electric vehicle market does offer great hope.

During his session he also stressed the importance of policy and policy mix in tackling climate change. “Policy is not the only driver but its importance is very clear. For instance we have seen very strong policies in terms of electricity and electric vehicles which has been transformative.”

Read the Original Thinking blog written by Professor Geels where he examines the importance of public policies as to how we get from here to net zero.

Watch Frank Geels' video below: 


Written by

Prof Frank Geels

Frank Geels is Professor of System Innovation and Sustainability at the Manchester Institute of Innovation Research (MIoIR) and Sustainable Consumption Institute (SCI), at the University of Manchester (UK). He is one of the world leading scholars on socio-technical transitions, addressing interactions between social and technical developments in large-scale changes in energy, food and transport systems. The topic of socio-technical transitions is receiving increasing political and academic attention in the context of sustainable development and climate change, because they enable major sustainability improvements (factor 4 to 10).


Geels is particularly well known for this work on the Multi-Level Perspective (MLP) (which provides an encompassing understanding of longitudinal transitions as interactions between radical niche-innovations, established regimes and an exogenous ‘landscape’) and on Strategic Niche Management (SNM), which explains how policymakers can influence the emergence of radical innovations. Geels also developed a socio-technical scenario methodology, which provides a novel way for exploring how future transitions arise from interactions between social, technical, political, cultural and economic developments.  


Working in the field of innovation studies, Geels aims to make crossovers between the sub-communities of evolutionary economics (EE), Science and Technology Studies (STS) and Technology Innovation Management (TIM). His interdisciplinary style also uses insights from neo-institutional theory, sociology, history of technology, cultural studies and business studies. His work combines theoretical sensitivity with in-depth longitudinal case studies, aiming at pattern-recognition and causal process analysis.  


Geels has studied a dozen historical case studies of transitions in various empirical domains: sea transport, urban land transport, highway systems, air transport, sewer systems, water supply, music, factory production, psychotropic drugs, pig farming, horticulture, and coal industry. He also studied contemporary and future sustainability transitions in biogas, electricity systems, pig farming, renewable energy technologies, and automobility.  


Geels has published six books and 39 peer-reviewed articles, some of which are highly cited (respectively 475, 318 and 316 citations in the Web of Science for his 2002, 2007 and 2004articles in Research Policy). In 2014 Thomson Reuters selected him into the list of ‘Highly Cited Researchers’. His international standing led him to become chairman of the Sustainability Transitions Research Network (http://www.transitionsnetwork.org/), which has more than 700 members, is associated with the new journal Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions, and contributes to organizing International Sustainability Conferences (Amsterdam, 2009; Lund, 2011; Copenhagen, 2012; Zurich, 2013). Geels has had social and political impacts through interactions with policymakers and other stakeholders. The MLP, which was introduced to the Dutch government via a consultancy report, has inspired the Dutch transition management program (2002-2010). The UK Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has embraced transition thinking in Defra’s Evidence and Investment Strategy 2010-2013 and Beyond, partly on the basis of two consultancy projects in which Geels was involved. The World Wildlife Fund explicitly uses the MLP to structure their strategies in the ‘Great Transition’ project, which led to the establishment of a Smart CSO initiative that includes 70 civil society organization across Europe (http://www.smart-csos.org/). Geels was recently invited to write a report for the OECD to help frame a 2-year research project (2013-2015) on System Innovation.

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