PASHMINA: A new generation of tools to visualise global change

In the next few decades, global society is expected to undergo profound changes in all respects, including economics, the environment, trade, energy and transport. But what will those changes be and how well equipped are we to assess their likely impact? The PASHMINA research project is pioneering a new generation of practical tools (e.g. models and indicators) to help policy makers approach these complex questions for Europe in the long term (2030-2050).

From investment in renewable energy to new modes of transport, changes in society are an inevitable part of our future. But these transitions may not necessarily follow a predictable trend. When visualising the future on a European or world scale, researchers and policy makers need to consider potential changes in society that involve a fundamental shift in a longstanding perception, concept or understanding. This is known as a paradigm shift.

The major driving force behind the PASHMINA project is to enable policy makers to better visualise possible paradigm shifts in the relationship between the economy and the environment, in order to adopt the most appropriate pathway for adaptation to, or mitigation of, global change.

One important point to note is that the paradigm shifts investigated are purely exploratory and are not meant to be predictive. The idea is to help policy makers visualise the consequences of certain actions (...'what if').

Guiding principles

Figure 1 (below) shows four simplified trajectories for a future society in Europe up to 2050. The ideal scenario from an ecological perspective, as described above, is represented by the ‘Orange World’. The other ‘storylines’ differ in the speed at which large-scale changes take place and whether they focus on the individual or society as a whole. This was the starting point for the PASHMINA project.

 

Figure 1 – Possible paradigm shifts


The researchers devised 50 different indicators of change to represent the differences between these scenarios, which then helped them quantitatively explore the effect of specific paradigm shifts within each one. How to accurately match up descriptive storylines of global change (i.e. climate change mitigation, financial recovery) with real-world indicators that can monitor the extent of change (i.e. GHG emissions, GDP) represents a long-standing challenge in the research community, and is a major on-going achievement of the PASHMINA project.

This framework of indicators and models is currently being thoroughly tested and fine-tuned to produce robust projections of potential paradigm shifts and practical sets of recommendations to policy makers for how to achieve each one. A second strand of research is focusing on using Geographic Information System (GIS) modelling to assess the geographic consequences of different paradigm shifts in land use related to agriculture, forestry, biofuels, biodiversity and ecosystem services.

Change of pace - Mobility in 2050

From an ecological perspective, a global shift towards using more than just GDP (gross domestic product) as a measure of societal well-being is a desirable way forward. In such a society, criteria, such as preserving ecosystem services and mitigating climate change, would be valued equally with GDP.

With this in mind, the researchers looked more closely at the paradigm shifts that could occur in the relationship between transport, energy and the environment to achieve this goal. By following a two-step process, CO2 emissions could be reduced by a factor of four without affecting the overall GDP, according to the early results from the research. The paradigm shift in this case is to modify the prevailing assumption that an increase in the speed of mobility of people and goods is tied to a growth in GDP.

  • Step 1 – Associate speed with collective transport rather than individual transport, by shifting the focus towards high-speed rail links and public transport infrastructure, and away from building faster cars and super highways.
  • Step 2 – Decouple mobility and GDP even further by reducing the need for increased mobility in general. The most effective solution could be to increase the proportion of the population living in cities.

Policy recommendations to achieve this goal:

  • Introduce speed regulation and ‘speed pricing’ to put a financial price on individual modes of transport on all types of roads.
  • Implement parking restrictions and congestion charges to reduce the attractiveness of road transport.
  • Create new infrastructure for rapid public transport, i.e. rail links and bus lanes, and high-occupancy vehicle lanes on highways.
  • Ensure that policies aimed at reducing total mobility, notably through land use management actions to ensure services (shopping, health, leisure, employment) are accessible within short distances of residential areas.
  • Implement policies to improve low-carbon technology in vehicles to complement these changes in behaviour, i.e. plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles.

To be effective, these recommendations may need to be accompanied by changes in land use taxation and extension of carbon quotas to some transport activities.

A major advantage of the PASHMINA project is that it is interdisciplinary, incorporating economists, environmental analysts, computer modellers and statisticians. The project consortium includes researchers from 11 research institutions in seven European countries (Austria, France, Italy, Czech Republic, Spain, Germany and Denmark).

Alongside policy briefs and peer-reviewed publications, a particularly innovative aspect of the PASHMINA project is its range of dissemination tools designed to create a long-lasting legacy of the research. Inspired by systems like Wikipedia, PASHMINA has established a web platform called ‘wiki4globalchanges’, with the aim of stimulating a discussion and exchange of knowledge among scientists and practitioners in order to better address global changes.

The topics of exploration are framed by four global shifts envisaged in the areas of:

  • Policy: beyond voting.
  • Energy: beyond oil.
  • The economy: beyond GDP.
  • Lifestyle: beyond tangibles.

The platform inspires users to think beyond their current frame of mind, and to work together to build collective knowledge and insights in the form of discussion threads and wiki pages. Users are encouraged to contribute to current discussions and wiki entries or add new ones, based on their expertise and interest in one or more of the four topic areas.

The website offers an opportunity for sharing knowledge and will go online in April 2012 at: http://www.wiki4globalchanges.org. This will allow the updating and refining of tools to enable policy makers to continue to use them long after the project comes to a close in November 2012. For further information, please contact: info@wiki4globalchanges.org

PASHMINA - Paradigm shifts modelling and innovative approaches (duration: 1/12/2009 – 31/11/2012). FP7 Socio-economic Sciences and Humanities, Activity 2 “Combining economic, social and environmental objectives in a European perspective”, Research area 2.1 “Socio-economic development trajectories”. Collaborative project (small and medium scale focused research project).

See: http://www.pashmina-project.eu/

Coordinator contact: Andrea Ricci, aricci@isis-it.com

European Commission contact: Domenico Rossetti, Domenico.Rossetti-di-Valdalbero@ec.europa.eu