CIVICA Research STEADFAST workshop: The role of energy and food demand in climate change mitigation


In an online workshop held on 7 March 2023, a group of researchers presented their work on the CIVICA Research Project STEADFAST. Silvia Pianta, Visiting Fellow at the European University Institute’s Max Weber Programme, organised the event and gave a presentation on the role of food demand in climate change mitigation. The event was a joint effort between CIVICA members Bocconi University, Central European University, and the European University Institute (EUI).

STEADFAST - Sustainable energy and food transitions is one of the projects selected under CIVICA's first call for collaborative research projects, which marked the launch of CIVICA Research, the alliance's long-term research and innovation agenda. The project aims to understand the feasibility of worldwide dietary and energy demand changes necessary to achieve the Paris climate targets. 

STEADFAST originated from a lack of research on the demand side of climate mitigation scenarios, explained one of the principal investigators, EUI Max Weber Visiting Fellow, Silvia Pianta, who is visiting from Bocconi University. “Most long-term climate mitigation scenarios developed by integrated assessment models focus on the supply side of climate change mitigation. These scenarios are, of course, very important, but they do not explore as much the demand side of mitigating climate change.” 

Pianta, together with Elina Brutschin (International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis) and Professor Valentina Bosetti (Bocconi University – CIVICA alliance member), are investigating what role changes in meat consumption – the part of food consumption that has the highest climate impact – can have in long-term climate mitigation. 

The researchers investigated the role of different drivers of meat consumption in the past, built their own projections of meat consumption and then presented the results at the workshop. 

“Researchers working with these scenarios mainly focus on the economic drivers of meat demand, like income and prices, but an interdisciplinary literature shows us that there are important social and cultural drivers of meat demand,” explained Pianta. “Dietary changes, and in particular substituting meat with plant-based alternatives, can significantly contribute to climate change mitigation efforts.” 

During the workshop, Professor Aleh Cherp and researcher Marta Vetier, from Central European University – a CIVICA alliance member, presented the conclusions of their study within the STEADFAST project, which focuses on changes in energy demand. They shared that development without energy might be feasible, and it should be assessed as systematically as other climate options.  

The STEADFAST workshop also counted the participation of researcher Lukas Fesenfeld (University of Bern, ETH Zurich), who presented his research on the role of carbon food labels and experience with meat substitutes in shifting food demand toward planetary health diets. Gregor Semieniuk (University of Massachusetts Amherst) and Benigna Bozza-Kiss (International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis) were also present. Semieniuk discussed the demands on energy of industrialisation, while Bozza-Kiss shared research focusing on energy demand-side solutions in urban spaces. 

As Pianta prepares for the next steps in her research, she reflects positively on how the CIVICA network enriched her personal and academic background. "Personally, having this network of social sciences helps you feel more connected and stand in collaboration with people who work exactly on your topic, in different institutions. I appreciate, within the project, and within CIVICA, this interdisciplinary approach”. 

The CIVICA collaborative research projects gather scholars from CIVICA universities to conduct policy relevant research on major societal challenges. Following CIVICA's first call for collaborative research proposals, eleven proposals were selected for funding under CIVICA Research. Last year, in a second call, eleven more were selected, many involving the EUI.  

CIVICA Research brings together researchers from eight leading European universities in the social sciences to contribute knowledge and solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges. The project aims to strengthen the research & innovation pillar of the European University alliance CIVICA. CIVICA Research is funded by the EU’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme. 

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Written by Beatriz Carvalho (EUI).

Photo credits: Karsten Wirth (unsplash).