NMBU to lead new PhD school on the green shift and energy transition

12 new research schools will be established in Norway with funding from the Research Council of Norway (RCN). NMBU is partner to five of the 12 schools in addition to the one it is heading.  

National research schools are intended to renew and improve Norwegian research education and supplement the institutions' own doctoral programs.

The new research schools will receive approximately NOK 2 million per year from RCN for up to eight years. A total of NOK 192 million has been allocated to the 12 research schools. The schools will develop new methods and approaches to increase collaboration between academia and other social actors.

Energy transition crucial for a sustainable low-emission society

"The energy crisis we are experiencing in Europe now is just one of several factors that show how timely the funding of this research school is. The climate challenges we face, and the world's energy consumption are closely linked. To get closer to a sustainable low-emission society, the move from fossil to renewable energy is crucial," says John-Andrew McNeish, Head of the new research school.

McNeish is a social anthropologist and Professor at the Department of International Environment and Development Studies (Noragric) at NMBU’s Faculty for Landscape and Society.

The research school, Empowered Futures: A Global Research School Navigating the Social and Environmental Controversies of Low-Carbon Energy Transitions, represents a broad collaboration between large Norwegian research communities, key business actors and international researchers, who together will educate future researchers in the field.

Sustainability a key focus for NMBU

"I would like to congratulate all of those involved. A national research school is an important tool for raising the quality of research and gathering competence in our research education, nationally, but also internally at NMBU. It gives participating PhD students a golden opportunity to be part of an academic community and network that will greatly benefit them as young researchers. The research school headed by McNeish targets the core area of ​​NMBU, that is issues related to sustainability. It will be exciting to follow the development of the project," says Finn-Arne Weltzien, Pro-rector for Research and Innovation at NMBU.

"That we received funding for this research school reflects on how we, the Faculty of Landscape and Society, offer a world-class academic environment with high societal relevance to tackle complex problems. I congratulate the entire academic community, particularly the project manager, McNeish," adds Eva Falleth, Dean of the Faculty of Landscape and Society

The research schools are based on networks of universities, technical schools and research institutes. Through the schools, PhD candidates will have access to specialized courses, supervision and professional networks.

Energy transition transcends technological innovation

"The robust evidence base of Sustainable Development Goal 7 (clean energy for all) shows the importance of investment in renewable energy roll-out (solar, wind and hydro power), energy efficiency measures (heat pumps, insulation, smart electric meters) and low energy social practices (e.g., modal shifts in transport), to achieve an ambitious low-carbon target by 2030," says McNeish.  

"However, a series of related social, economic, and political controversies also need to be addressed for societal transitions. These controversies are evident in Norway and globally, as countries advance a low-carbon energy future. They include conflicts over land and resource use, cultural and economic value, biological disturbance, loss of jobs in fossil-related industries, energy pricing, new taxes, and more", he explains.

McNeish points out that the knowledge and expertise we need to succeed with energy changes thus transcends technological innovation.

"We discern a critical need for research-based competence on conflict mediation, equitable policy and development frameworks to achieve broad socio-political acceptance of a steady shift away from fossil fuel reliance. With a view to caring for people and planet, it is important to stress that the outcomes of this might not always be what is considered to be politically or economically expedient by government or business," he concludes.

Key for both climate mitigation and sustainable development

Jennifer Joy West who heads the hosting department, Noragric, commends the new research school:

"I congratulate John-Andrew McNeish and all involved colleagues on having been awarded funding for this timely, interdisciplinary and highly collaborative Global Research School. Energy transitions are key for both climate mitigation and sustainable development, yet we see in Norway and around the world that such transitions may create winners and loser and entail a range of social, economic and environmental conflicts," says West.

She emphasises that Empowered Futures will enable a unique platform for collaboration and knowledge sharing. Important research environments will join forces with key public sector, civil society, and business actors to develop joint courses and activities. The research school will build on Noragric’s wide expertise in critical social science research on energy transitions in developing countries.  

"We are very proud to be joining forces with cutting-edge research environments in Norway and internationally, to educate future scholars in energy social science," adds West.

The Research Council of Norway’s Chief Executive, Mari Sundli Tveit has high hopes for the research schools.

"One of the most important things we can do to prepare for the future is to support research and young research talent. The research schools will contribute so that doctoral students are well prepared for the tasks that await them within and outside of research,” she says.

Published 21. January 2022 - 8:04 - Updated 22. January 2022 - 17:30