How this SFU researcher works with UN to help nations reach their Paris Agreement goals

December 04, 2020

By Cindy Li

For the past three years, SFU researcher Taco Niet and his research group have been helping countries around the world find sustainable ways to lower their greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) while also considering the impact on their food, energy and water supplies.

Their work supports the 2015 Paris Agreement, signed by Canada and other countries around the world with a united goal to limit carbon emissions and combat climate change. To help reach this goal, the United Nations (UN) recruited Niet, a professor in the School of Sustainable Energy Engineering.

Driven to develop a more sustainable future, Niet’s research group, ΔE+(read as delta E plus), is investigating the relationships between different systems, such as land, climate, energy, water and health, on human and ecological well-being. Their research goal: to develop improved methods and tools for evaluating energy systems and their trade-offs, and to help society better understand the impact humans have on the environment.

“There is a lot of modelling of the energy system in many places, but considering the trade-offs and synergies between energy, water, land and other systems isn’t often included,” says Niet.

At the core of the Paris Agreement are nationally determined contributions (NDCs), which are climate actions proposed by each country to reduce national emissions. Modelling tools are used to assess resource systems in order to develop policies that meet NDCs set by each country. Niet and his colleagues have developed and expanded upon one of the tools used by the UN, called Climate, Land, Energy, Water system (CLEWs) modelling. They have based their work on the original CLEWs framework from the KTH Royal Institute of Technology.

“The CLEWs framework is important to help assess resource systems such as energy, water and agricultural systems, and their vulnerability to climate change,” says Niet.

“It helps identify and quantify the trade-offs that exist when planning a path toward sustainability. It provides a scientific and systematic approach for formulating strategy and policy.”

Since 2017, Niet has been working with the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs and the UN Development Programme to provide CLEWs training workshops to UN member states around the world, including Ethiopia, Indonesia and countries in the Asia-Pacific. He helps them assess trade-offs and synergies between the energy, water and land sectors, and develop policies to reach their NDCs.

Pictured is Taco Niet providing in-person training to government, UN and academic representatives in February of 2020 in Bandung, Indonesia.

Countries in the Asia-Pacific region, which is his current focus, use nearly half of the world’s energy. It is predicted that energy consumption will increase in this region with a corresponding increase in GHG emissions as more people receive access to electricity and other energy services. It is also projected that populations living in these countries will be most impacted by climate change. As such, climate action would greatly benefit populations in these countries.

Niet is training analysts from government departments representing the ministries of planning, finance, energy, environment and other relevant representatives as needed.

“Having strong decision support for policymakers will enable better and more effective climate strategies for these countries, while at the same time increasing access to electricity and energy services,” says Niet.

As participants develop and apply CLEWs models, Niet provides guidance, review and input to ensure they apply the appropriate parameters unique to their countries’ economical and geographical situations. This helps policymakers develop more effective policies for a sustainable environment.

“Developing modelling skills within a country allows each country’s government to build capacity and capabilities to ensure that future decisions are also well supported.”

While the pandemic has forced knowledge-sharing to virtual platforms, it has not ceased the work itself or the urgency of the climate crisis. Niet and his team will continue to provide their expertise to international stakeholders.