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Exploring low-carbon transitions by means of model integration

20 March 2014, 2pm: Free
at the James Hutton Institute, Aberdeen AB15 8QH
for scientists, students and other interested parties
Alexey Voinov

This seminar "Exploring low-carbon transitions by means of model integrationwill be given by Associate Professor Alexey Voinov from the University of Twente, the Netherlands, at the James Hutton Institute in Aberdeen.

Note: This seminar will not be broadcast to the Dundee site.


There are various visions of our future, but most policy makers and scientists agree that life will be substantially different in the post-fossil era. The cheap and abundant supply of fossil energy has led to unprecedented population growth and to staggering levels of consumption of natural resources, undermining the carrying capacity of nature.

Eroding ecosystems, the end of cheap oil and climate change call for new policies to support societal transformations toward low-carbon alternative futures. This understanding has already been expressed in recent EU legislation, which requires that domestic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions be cut by 80% between 1990 and 2050.

Energy is a major driver of change and an important 'currency' that runs economic and social systems and influences environmental systems. Being so used to the abundant and uninterrupted supply of fossil energy, we tend to forget the important role that it plays in our everyday lives. Non-marginal, abrupt changes, such as during the Oil Crisis of the 1970s or the sudden sharp rise in oil prices in 2008 remind us how vulnerable societies are with respect to energy.

There are several reasons why most of the conventional economic models are not well suited to treat the transitions that are already happening and will be only accelerating.

  • They were developed for conditions of abundant natural resources, where economic growth could be considered as the main goal, and nature was seen as something to combat and conquer.
  • They were considering systems at equilibrium when only marginal changes were assumed, failing to account for non-linear processes that may result in regime shifts, bifurcations, and structural change.
  • They were treating spatially uniform systems (either local, or regional, or global) with little attention paid to multi-scale hierarchical processes spanning various scales of complexity and spatial arrangement.
  • They had very primitive assumptions about human behaviour, mostly assuming rationality and homogeneity in preferences and decisions made, with no account for adaptation and social learning.

The FP7 COMPLEX project is designed to develop new modelling tools for managing step-change dynamics by working across a wide range of spatio-temporal scales, and integrating the knowledge of many stakeholder communities, for example in respect of land use change driven by carbon-related technologies. In particular we will explore how model integration can be used to improve our understanding of future low-carbon economies and to analyse various decisions and policies that can facilitate the transition.


Alexey Voinov is an Associated Professor in the Department of Natural Resources, Faculty of Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation (ITC) at the University of Twente since 2009.

He received his MSc in Applied Mathematics from Moscow State University in 1978. In 1982, he obtained his PhD in Biophysics and Ecosystem Modelling from the same university. Before joining ITC, he worked at the Institute for Ecological Economics at the University of Maryland, at the Gund Institute for Ecological Economics (University of Vermont, School of Natural Resources), and at the Department of Geography and Environmental Engineering at the Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore.

His areas of professional expertise are in simulation modelling of ecosystems and sustainability science in application to decision support and policy making, In particular, his research is in spatial dynamic models, systems analysis in ecology and economics, strategic environmental assessment, environmental impact assessment, modelling of aquatic and watershed ecosystems, integrated assessment, energy and natural resources, participatory modelling, sustainability and environmental policy, model integration and interoperability.

The seminar is being hosted by Dr Gary Polhill.

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The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.