@ENavi Summer School 2019 “Between Digitalisation and Sustainability – Exploring a Transition of the Mobility Sector”

by Jahel Mielke

What is the best way to travel from Edinburgh, Scotland, to Potsdam, Germany? If you ask Jack Flower, it is a 15-hour train ride via London, Brussels and Cologne.

“I liked it, especially that I was able to work on the train”, he said at a discussion at the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) in Potsdam.

What lies behind Jack’s choice, who made his way from Scotland to join the ENavi Summer School on the Digitalisation of the Energy Transition, are his preferences, for example described by his attitudes towards ecology, convenience of travel or innovativeness and cost.

With 60 other participants in a Decision Theater conducted by the Global Climate Forum (GCF) in Potsdam, Jack was able to explore and discuss the complex decisions people make when they decide which mobility type to use.

© Jan-Hendrik Niemann

In a visual environment made up of several large screens and an underlying computer model, participants could see simulations of mobility patterns for Germany until 2035.

They were created with GCF’s agent-based mobility model, called MoTMo, that represents a synthetic population of Germany, thus making it easy for participants to identify with the agents in the model.

In the first round, participants who came from a wide range of countries like Indonesia, China, Italy, Germany or Great Britain were confronted with the so-called business-as-usual-scenario for mobility.

It shows the effects of the current policy mix, leaving Germany far from its CO2-reduction targets in the transport sector of 38% until 2030 compared to 2005 (yellow line).

© Jan-Hendrik Niemann

The strength of the Decision Theatre is its interactive approach, allowing participants to experiment with their own scenarios and see the – sometimes unintended effects – of their policy choices in the model.

It is important to note that the reflection on the model design is part of the discussion process. MoTMo is not presented as a finished product that creates an illusion of certainty and precision in situations such as a transition to sustainability – calling for the capability to “expect the unexpected”.

Due to interactions with the model, stakeholders can contribute to improving scientific results and methods.

To explore this approach, participants were give ten options to change the course of the business- as-usual scenario, including policies, for example to restrict the weight of cars, investment decisions such as subsidizing electric vehicles or events such as a strong push in digitalization of the mobility sector.

Different pathways emerged as three groups, August, Bertha and Carl, formed and expressed their priorities. In the group August, restrictions for conventional cars were chosen, as well as investment into alternative infrastructure (electric, public transport). Also, the group expected a higher gas price and more car-sharing availability. This led to a significant decrease in emissions compared to BAU, but still not to target levels (yellow line). In terms of the mobility mix we could see a decrease in conventional combustion cars, an increase in public transport, but a decrease of non-motorized mobility coming along with a car sharing increase. This trend is also visible in the US where many people use car-pooling instead of walking or biking.

What followed this thought exercise was a lively discussion on model structures and best practices for a mobility transition from countries like Denmark, India or the US. How can an agent-based model account for irrational behavior of people in the mobility sector? “People sit in their cars in a traffic jam every day and still think it is the right choice”, one participant remarked, referring to preferences such as convenience that are part of the presented model. Others suggested more policy options such as a payment to people who use their bike instead of their cars like in Copenhagen.

© Jan-Hendrik Niemann

© Jan-Hendrik Niemann

With each event, the Global Climate Forum will further develop its Decision Theater approach in interactions with a broad range of stakeholders from science, politics, business and civil society in different regions. By stimulating creative discussions concerning various aspects, such as structural change in the labor market or the challenge of inequality, GCF will contribute to better understanding transformation processes towards sustainability.

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Background information Summer School 2019:

From Monday, 13th of May, to Friday, 17th of June, the Institute for Sustainability Studies (IASS) in Potsdam invited 50 international early career applicants with a strong interest in sustainability and energy topics to join the annual ENavi Summer School 2019. The overarching theme was “Digitalization in the Energy Transition”.

The intense five-day, multi-faceted program that focused on topics like Future Mobility, Big Data, Smart Energy Management and Digital Solutions started on Monday with a Decision Theatre on Sustainable Mobility, realized by the Decision Theatre team of GCF.

Decision Theatre in the media:

The Potsdam newspaper MAZ reported on the DT at the ENavi Summer School 2019 in its edition of 19th of May, see here

MAZ Artikel

More information on GCF’s mobile DT

can be found here