I lead a big team of researchers and the Alliance for Excellence for Research and Innovation on Aeiphoria (AE4RIA) is an initiative for collaboration between research institutions, innovation accelerators and science-technology-policy interface networks, focused on sustainable development and includes four research Institutions, the Research Laboratory on Socio-Economic and Environmental Sustainability (ReSEES) at Athens University of Economics and Business the Sustainable Development Unit (SD.U) at ATHENA Information Technology Research Center the International Centre for Research on the Environment and the Economy (ICRE8) and the Stochastic Modeling and Applications Laboratory at Athens University of Economics and Business three Innovation Acceleration Hubs , SDSN Global Climate Hub, Maritime ClimAccelerator and BRIGAID Connect Association- Climate Innovation Window and supports the following Scientific Associations and Science-Policy Networks, the Sustainable Development Solutions Network ,SDSN Europe, SDSN Greece, European Association of Environmental and Resource Economists ,Water Europe ,NEXUS Cluster . The main expertise of my team is mathematical socio-economic modelling integrated with modelling of natural system. So our expertise lies in mathematics, economic statistics and we focus on developing mathematical programs that integrate natural systems and socio-economic systems, and then analysing the results of these models in a way that can support the development and structure of economic policies and social policies. So my role in both of the projects is focused on analysing how socioeconomic systems will interact with natural systems in order to develop technological pathways, financial pathways and policy pathways that can support the transition to a climate resilient world.
In ARSINOE we have a bigger role in Work Package 2 that is on the use of the Systems Innovation Approach for co-designing with local stakeholders at case study level, the pathways to climate resilience. This is done through fully participatory Living Labs that bring together scientist, technology developers, policymakers, businesses, even politicians and the civil society in order toto propose pathways to climate resilience that are commonly discussed. We are also leading Work Package 7, which focuses on the design of financial instruments and financial policies that can support the investments and the transformative governance changes. Indeed, it is not enough to engage with stakeholders, financing the transition and the innovations is crucial. I’m talking about financial innovation, both with regards to financing private investments, public investments, public private partnerships and also thinking about fiscal policies that can enable the financing of the transition.
With regards to IMPETUS, we are very focused on developing a holistic platform that allows a monetary valuation of ecosystem services. This monitoring valuation of ecosystem services is crucial, for the efficient allocation of natural capital to different investments over time and space. Usually, natural capital cost is not recognized because it’s a public good, it doesn’t have an explicit price, so people use it without paying for it. And because of that they over extract, pollute and deplete natural capital. So, the attempt there is to use the extensive literature on non-market valuation, on which my team and I have been prominent contributors to for the last 20/25 years and conduct meta-analysis of the existing original valuation studies for the different ecosystem services and that can be found in European ecosystems, across the 14 geological and marine regions of Europe. Through this platform, stakeholders will be able to identify the monetary value of a particular ecosystem service in a particular ecosystem (terrestrial, marine, forest, fresh) across different geographical regions in Europe. In this way, when a cost benefit analysis about an investment or a project is conducted, there will be a possibility to link the economic value that the society assigns to the ecosystem service to the use of that service and decide whether the benefits of using it are higher than the cost of using it over the short, medium and long run horizon.
Why did you want to get involved in climate change adaptation projects?
Well, I devoted the whole of my academic career to the transition towards sustainability and I strongly believe that sustainability transition is the only way forward out of this multi-crisis that we are facing. We are facing the pandemic, the socioeconomic crisis that came after the disruption of the value chain due to the pandemic. Now we are also facing inflationary pressures. Then we have the climate crisis, the ecosystem collapse crisis, the geopolitical crisis that is putting additional pressure on the energy prices and the and the food crisis. And overall, we have an overarching global crisis of increase inequality between groups within a nation, but also between the developed world and the global South. And we know that our escape from this multi crisis scenery is the transition to sustainability. And we know what sustainability is: it is the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, the 169 targets within these goals, we can measure the performance of each and every nation and company and city and region against the Sustainable Development Goals. We measure them every year since 2015 as United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions network, and I am very honoured to lead the Global Climate Hub of this global network. Every year we use 215 KPI to measure the performance of each and every nation against these goals. And one of the important and overarching goal is goal 13, which is a climate action, and we also know that no goal is fully implemented without the other goals being implemented too. So this focus on climate on the climate transition, climate neutrality and climate resilience is crucial for the transition to sustainability, and this is something that is very science based. So as a scientist, I feel that I serve a serious and important goal into paving detailed pathways transition to climate neutrality and climate resilience. Now why climate resilience? Well, if we’re going to face the climate crisis, we need to mitigate and adapt and we need to do this for both the energy system and the land use, ocean use systems. ARSINOE and IMPETUS focus on the adaptation and adaptation is crucial. Why? Because it has immediate effects. Because it can save the lives of actual people, through a building resilience against the increased frequency and severity of climate related natural disasters. It also saves infrastructure and disruption of economic life. It is crucial to avoid losses of lives and the loss of billions of dollars every year due to climate related natural disasters. Of course, while we are adapting, we should not be relaxed about the mitigation targets, we should do this simultaneously because we cannot afford to produce additional greenhouse gas emissions. We are beyond the point that we can really sustain our wellbeing , with the current technology that we have, we are very close to going above the plus 1.5 degrees Celsius increase in global climate and temperature compared to the pre-industrial average global temperature. Things are very crucial. We are very close to tipping points that are completely irreversible. I perceive this as a mission for my team of 200 researchers and myself to support the science base of this transition. And also be open and contribute not just to the science but to communicating the science to all other stakeholders that need to engage in this transition. It is definitely science-based, but without the engagement of the whole socioeconomic system we cannot achieve this transition. So I believe that as my role not just to produce the science, but also to communicate it further and communicate in a way that it achieves the following: first, it achieves the wider understanding of the problem. Second, it achieves the recognition that there are solutions to the problem. And last, it achieves the enablement of the greater society to adopt these solutions, which translates into a serious investment in upskilling, reskilling and revising the education system to provide the knowledge and skills to the workforce so that they can adopt the solutions.
May I ask you, what is your educational background? What did you, what did you study initially?
I studied economics. I am a mathematical economist and econometrician and with a PhD. from the University of Cambridge. I have always focused my work on the sustainable management of natural resources and the environment. I was a professor at the University of Cambridge after my PhD, then at the University College London of the University of London, then at the University of Reading and then I had then a joint appointment at London School of Economics and the Athens University of Economics and Business (AUEB). And now I have a joint appointment, a joint professorship at AUEB, the Technical University of Denmark and at Athena Information Technologies are Research Center. My work has always been focused on socio economic analysis and my goal was to develop solutions or pathways for the sustainable interaction between the natural systems and the socio-economic systems, human centric solution pathways. I’ve always worked in interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary teams. I believe that most of the problems we are facing are interdisciplinary and the solutions can only be found in interdisciplinary work. And that’s why I really appreciate the financial instruments of Horizon Europe, European Research Council, Horizon Europe projects and other European projects that allows bringing together all these multidisciplinary expertise across Europe and beyond Europe, because we also have projects with Africa, Asia, Latin America and so on in order to promote sustainability pathways, design and implementation.
What inspired / motivated you to pursue such education and led to the point of your career where you are now at ?
The first motivation is the recognition of the seriousness of unsustainable pathways. When I started environmental economics and natural resource economics was only a site field, not well recognized. But since then, I understood with some intuition and also the inspiration of great environmental economists at the University of Cambridge and beyond, because I’ve had a visit in positions across the US and Europe, that without the sustainable interaction between natural systems and social systems, sustainability is not possible, and we’ve also been able to identify that we are reaching irreversible tipping points. So the motivation is there and from my work I see that the solution is to bring together the different technological policy and financial solutions into an optimal mixture and construct the pathways that can be adopted by the society and the economy as a whole to move forward. And the more detailed the solutions and the more effort is being allocated , the higher the probability that we can avoid irreversible part outcomes. But I want to say that I’m not alone in this, as I told you, I lead this Alliance of Excellence for Research and Innovation on Aeiphoria, which includes 5 different research centers. I lead five different accelerators because we believe in the need for accelerating technological and financial solutions for massive deployment through economic and social system. We also work very closely with international and European networks and associations, the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network, as I told you, I lead the Global Climate Hub that presents climate neutrality and resilience pathways worldwide before each COP.
I also lead SDSN Europe, the whole SDSN network is global, has more than 1800 institutional members and helps in every nation of the world. And I’m also the President of the European Association Environmental Resource Economies, this is the biggest scientific association of environmental economies with more than 1500 members from 70 different countries. So these are large European and global European institutions that gather their strength and scientific efforts on sustainability transition, realizing that this is a transition, that it’s not enough to be done, but it has to be done on time and the time limits are very strict and short, and the transformation that needs to happen is huge and I’m convinced this challenge is massive.
What kind of skills and experiences have most equipped you to contribute to the goal of climate change adaptation (a couple of brief examples)?
As a scientist, the first skill you need to have is technical skills. You need to know your science. I’m a modeller and an analyst, so it’s about mathematical and econometric modelling. The scientific talent is important, but together with the talent, you need a lot, a lot, a lot of work. Also, in what we do, which is, really interdisciplinary, the firm roots in the knowledge of one’s own science, but also the ability to invest in understanding the underpinnings of other sciences are important because what we want to do is to merge the models and methodologies of different sciences into something that makes sense and can provide solutions for the real world. So the first important thing as a scientist is to really invest in your science, but also invest in understanding how your science connects with the other fields and sciences that you have to work with, and this takes a lot of years to do.
And then the other important skill is to be able to communicate with stakeholders outside science and outside technology development, which is easy for us. Outside this you have to create a serious interface with politicians, policymakers, businesses, financial institutions and the civil society. This takes a lot of work and a lot of discipline to do it in a way that you keep a firm devotion to their scientific quality, but at the same time allow the other stakeholders to understand the results of science and engage in in the value of this results for co-creating the solutions.
This is a very challenging thing for a scientist because it means going out of your comfort zone or it means having to explain yourself without using jargon and it becomes quite challenging to communicate the essence and the solutions offered by science and technology development, explain the hectic data needs, explain the complicated models in a way that it is understandable by the stakeholders who need to engage with the solutions, who need to clarify the solutions and who need to implement their solutions. So, the bigger challenge is to deal with a very difficult scientific problem and then engage the other stakeholders in this by explaining this very complicated integrated, systemic holistic problem in a way they can understand, and they can engage with in order to facilitate the implementation of the solutions and achieve the transition. So it’s not just the science its talking with all other stakeholders, and I repeat, policymakers, politicians, businesses, financial institutions, the civil society and of course, technology developer in order to create the necessary interfaces that can facilitate the implementation. And of course, one other big, huge aspect in this is upskilling, reskilling, and providing the education and knowledge to the workforce and to the greater society for engaging and implementing that transition. As a professor we try to revise our curriculum and even the structure of our universities to stop working in silos and have more integrated and interdisciplinary approaches that are necessary for implementing the SDG’s and the sustainability transition and the transposition of the SDG’s in European policy which comes in the form of the European Green Deal and then creating curricula that provide the knowledge, skills and expertise that are needed for this transition and also providing professional courses for upskilling and reskilling, the existing labour forced to be able to feel confident in the transition, to feel confident they can use the new technologies, the new governance structures, the new methods and the new ideas in order to convince them to engage with their transition. Because if they feel insecure about the new technologies, the new governor structures and so on, they will be reluctant to engage in this transition and this will delay, if not stop, the transition and we cannot afford to allow for this.
How does your field of expertise complement other disciplines in the project that you are working in, in ARSINOE and IMPETUS?
The human-centric element is crucial for all sciences, because the natural sciences really need to understand how humans impact and how they are impacted by environmental change and natural resource change, and in order to regulate impact of humans on natural resources, you need to understand how humans behave, how social and economic structures develop and evolve. So without this interaction between the socioeconomic system and the natural system, you cannot really focus and practice the impacts. You cannot measure the impacts and you cannot manage the impacts, so it is important for whatever pathway you want to develop to really create a sensible scientific framework where you can monitor, manage and assess the interaction between the natural system and the socio-economic system. Then with regards to engineering solutions and technology development, again, there is a big element of competitiveness of the development there is a big element of accelerating technological solutions, how you finance this gap between the innovation being ready, with high TRL’s, and the innovation being communicated to the greater part in order to be deployed. So there is a big element of a socioeconomic and financial work there in order to incubate and accelerate technological solutions. Then there is a big element of socioeconomic work in terms of how you finance the solution pathways? Not just the technologies in themselves and the business plans for their technologies, but the whole holistic socio economic, financial and economic support for the solution finance. What is the fiscal policy you have to identify in order to support the solution pathways? What are the monetary policies? How do you choose investment? How do you value your public goods such as natural resources, natural capital, human capital, social capital and how do you integrate them in your investment solutions? And also, how do you work with stakeholders and how do you affect the behavior they economic behavior of stakeholders in order to engage in the sustainability transition? How do you incentivize the stakeholder? In a nutshell, all elements of both projects have a vivid need to interact with the socioeconomic system. The natural systems, the development of technologies, the development of policies, the development of of instruments that are going to support and finance the implementation of policy. So at any point of the ARSINOE and IMPETUS projects, the human element comes from socio economic modelling. Climate adaptation and mitigation is not about nature, nature can exist in different forms under different conditions. It’s about the ability of humans to sustain its well-being within nature. Without the socioeconomic elements all of it, the financial elements, how natural capital translates into social economics, how human capital, how social capital translate into socioeconomic and interact with the natural system and the engineering solutions and the government solutions. All this, it’s really a very interdisciplinary work which integrates an important aspect from the socio economic. So I perceive us in the project as the team that brings in the human centric element and allows the natural system and the engineering solutions to interact with society and the economy in order to achieve this sustainable interaction between all these systems. Because the final aim is the well-being of people which is supported not only by financial means but also by environmental resilience and social cohesion.
What do you feel has been your biggest achievement / contribution to date?
At the moment, I think the biggest contribution is the engagement of the socio-economic system and the financial system into the Living Labs with the case studies in order to really understand the problems faced by the case studies and then design science-based solutions that are really solving their problem. This a close interaction with the stakeholders and the interface between the results that we get from the Living Labs with the stakeholders, with the mathematical models of the socio, economic and natural interaction, this interface that we are building this bridge between, what happens at the case study level and what the science based mathematical modelling of the interaction of the natural and socioeconomic system is producing it’s really valuable. It’s not a one-way contribution from science to society, it is a very interactive and transformative interaction between what cutting edge science has to offer in terms of a digital twin of human and natural resources and how this product of science really becomes valuable to the stakeholders at case study level. I find this very interesting and valuable both for the scientists, but mostly for the stakeholders. And I do hope that we will produce solution pathways that are going to be implemented not just because the stakeholders feel that they call designed and approved the known these solution pathways but also because we will find the financial instruments that will support the investments that are needed for the implementation of the pathways.
From the perspective of your field of expertise what is biggest challenge now regarding our ability to adapt to climate change?
We have the technologies, we have the knowledge to develop detailed pathways that can be implemented, the money is there, we need a vivid engagement from all the stakeholders in order to streamline the money towards the solutions that are science-based. So the biggest challenge is not that we don’t have the different elements, but to have the political will and the vivid engagement of stakeholders in order to implement that science-based pathways while simultaneously streamlining the finance for the implementation. So it’s about having the political system, the financial and socio economic system really focused on financing the implementation of the solution through massive engagement, an unprecedent engagement of all stakeholders. And this president engagement will only and take place if we do our way with geopolitical unnecessary pressures and we equip the labor force, the youth and the policymakers and the politicians with the skills and knowledge that are needed for the implementation. My experience tells me that we have the money, we have the technology, sometimes we even have the will, what we don’t really have is the massive deployment of the skills needed for the majority of people to feel comfortable with the engagement in these green and digital solutions and pathways. This climate adaptation, it’s about the green and digital transformation and the skills and knowledge are not out there yet among all stakeholders. So we need that vivid understanding that this is what we have to do. We have to do it fast and in order to do it fast, we need to use the science that is there, the technology that is there, the money that is there and engage everybody by empowering them with the skills and knowledge to be engaged. To empower them means serious investment in upskilling and reskilling. When the people are empowered to take part in this transformation, they will also put a huge pressure on the politicians to accelerate the transformation. Because they will see their future prosperity and well-being in this transformation.
What makes you the most hopeful for the future?
We have no other way out. We have to do it. We have to do it and although it’s sad that we already face climate change effects in terms of losing human lives and billions of dollars in lost infrastructure and economic activity. Although this is sad and tragic, at least it increased the awareness that we are very closed to irreversible tipping points, and I hope that this will incentivize the adoption of the already existing technology. It will be a big, big loss for humankind, if we don’t manage to implement the climate neutrality and resilience solution pathways when we have the technological solutions, we have the financial solutions, we have the policy solutions, but we don’t get our act together to implement them. Having said that, the implementation is a huge transformation and never before in humankind did we implement such as huge transformation in such a short period of time. However, never before did we have such a pace of technological advancement like we have now in the fourth industrial revolution. So I really think that it is doable and we should empower everybody to engage in their acceleration and just do it, save ourselves.