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Sigrid Stagl

Video Sigrid Stagl

Sigrid Stagl

Researcher of the Month

No mat­ter if it’s in the man­u­fac­tur­ing and ser­vice sector, polit­ics, or our private lives: Sus­tain­ab­il­ity is regarded as a key to the fu­ture of our planet, but the con­cept often tends to be over­sim­pli­fied. Many mis­takes are be­ing made, espe­cially in the field of cli­mate pro­tec­tion, where we’re still a far cry from meet­ing the 2°C tar­get en­vi­sioned at the Paris cli­mate sum­mit. WU Pro­fessor Sigrid Stagl, head of WU’s In­sti­tute for Eco­lo­gical Eco­nom­ics, is work­ing on meth­ods that make it possible to meas­ure the true costs of ser­vices, products, and eco­nomic policy de­cisions.

Many products ap­pear to be cheap, even though they really aren’t: The costs of these products are often shif­ted from con­sumers to other people, in the form of cheap labor, bad work­ing con­di­tions, and en­vir­on­mental im­pact. This can have dire con­sequences, espe­cially when it comes to cli­mate pro­tec­tion. “It’s ob­vi­ous that eco­nomic suc­cess de­pends on the use of nat­ural re­sources,” ex­plains WU Pro­fessor Sigrid Stagl. “This means that on a planet with lim­ited re­sources, the prin­ciple of re­gen­er­a­tion must be a top eco­nomic pri­or­ity. We only know the true costs of eco­nomic policy de­cisions, pro­duc­tion chains, and ser­vices if we ad­opt a com­pre­hens­ive per­spect­ive that takes into ac­count the whole li­fe­cycle.” At WU’s In­sti­tute for Eco­lo­gical Eco­nom­ics, Sigrid Stagl is work­ing on meth­ods in­ten­ded to sup­port de­cision-­mak­ing pro­cesses and mod­els that make it possible to assess how high of a price so­ci­ety ac­tu­ally has to pay for dif­fer­ent eco­nomic policy de­cisions.

New meth­ods for bet­ter de­cision-­mak­ing

“Con­ven­tional cost-be­ne­fit ana­lysis paints an over­sim­pli­fied pic­ture of so­cial costs and has there­fore proven in­ad­equate. Pre­vi­ously, all im­pacts used to be meas­ured in mon­et­ary units. As a con­sequence, im­pacts that are dif­fi­cult or even im­possible to quan­tify in mon­et­ary terms were dis­reg­arded,” Sigrid Stagl ex­plains. “En­vir­on­mental de­grad­a­tion or the loss of biod­iversity can­not be meas­ured in money alone – a sus­tain­able economy re­quires an in­teg­rated per­spect­ive. If we don’t ad­opt such a per­spect­ive, we won’t meet our 2°C cli­mate pro­tec­tion tar­get.” To bet­ter com­pare and evalu­ate dif­fer­ent de­cisions and scen­arios, Stagl and her team used a mathem­at­ical al­gorithm developed in the field of eco­lo­gical eco­nom­ics. The res­ult is a method of par­ti­cip­at­ory mul­ti-cri­teria ana­lysis suit­able for an ex­ten­ded range of new uses. With regard to cli­mate pro­tec­tion, for example, this new ap­proach makes it possible to quan­tify the im­pacts of eco­nomic activ­it­ies based on the same units in which they oc­cur: CO2 emis­sions in tons, an­imal and plant spe­cies based on the rel­ev­ant eco­lo­gical in­dic­at­ors, etc. In an ad­di­tional step, the res­ults of the quant­it­at­ive ana­lyses are com­ple­men­ted by stake­holder and cit­izen en­gage­ment pro­cesses in order to in­crease the demo­cratic le­git­im­acy of the de­cision-­mak­ing pro­ced­ure. “In this way, we are able to take into ac­count the in­terests of all stake­hold­ers and the com­munity as a whole. As an end res­ult, this pro­cess gives us a ro­bust, pri­or­it­ized list of plaus­ible scen­arios and the cor­res­pond­ing solu­tions, ranked by their de­gree of so­cial desirab­il­ity,” says Sigrid Stagl.

A step to­wards meet­ing our cli­mate tar­gets

For the first time, mul­ti-cri­teria ana­lysis now al­lows re­search­ers to develop com­pre­hens­ive scen­arios for the fu­ture that ideally take into ac­count all rel­ev­ant cri­teria, and to rank these scen­arios based on how desir­able they are to so­ci­ety, tak­ing into con­sid­er­a­tion the in­terests of cit­izens and stake­hold­ers. This is a cru­cial con­tri­bu­tion to the de­bate about which steps we have to take to meet our cli­mate tar­gets. “We can now for the first time use these meth­ods to make com­pre­hens­ive, sus­tain­able de­cisions. Our ana­lyses of en­ergy-re­lated scen­arios on the na­tional and re­gional levels have shown that ap­proaches which com­bine de­mand- and sup­ply-side meas­ures get the best res­ults, that de­car­bon­iz­a­tion and sus­tain­able en­ergy mixes can be achieved, that quick and de­termined ac­tion pays off, and that it is possible to re­con­cile so­cial and en­vir­on­mental ob­ject­ives,” Sigrid Stagl points out.