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MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

Absolute Zero: Iceland

Climate change is not a problem for the distant future – it is happening now. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that global greenhouse gas emissions need to be cut to zero by 2050 if we want to minimise global warming to 1.5°C above preindustrial levels. Generally, techno-optimistic politicians around the world are betting on “breakthrough technologies” – technologies that haven’t yet reached linear market growth - like carbon capture and storage and zero-emission aviation to mitigate climate change in time for their national goals. In 2019 the UK FIRES published the report Absolute Zero which examined how the UK could reach its goals of carbon neutrality in 2050, using only existing technologies. The report’s researchers argue that although some exciting breakthrough technologies are being developed, they won’t be operating at scale within the next three decades. Iceland’s response to the climate crisis is to curb carbon emissions to zero in 2040, which has become the law in the country. Iceland is considered a global leader in climate change mitigation as nearly all electricity generation and domestic heating comes from renewables. In this dissertation, Iceland’s climate plans and projected emissions will be examined in terms of breakthrough technologies and put forth what Icelanders could do with existing technology to reach their goals for 2040. The results state that Iceland would need to increase land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF) measures by 660%, phase out metal production, international aviation, beef and lamb production and fishing before 2040. Zero-emission industries, domestic vegetable production and tourism could expand. By phasing out the metal industry, Icelanders do not need to expand their electricity production to meet increased electrical demand due to the electrification of road transport. Increased infrastructure is needed for electrical vehicle charging and heavy-duty transport with electrical road systems. The feasibility of Absolute Zero Iceland is not high, especially for measures for LULUCF, the metal industry, international aviation, and fishing.


Course Overview


The need to engage in better problem definition through careful dialogue with all stakeholder groups and a proper recognition of context.


An ability to work with specialists from other disciplines and professional groups acknowledging that technical innovation and business skills also must be understood, nurtured and combined as precursors to the successful implementation of sustainable solutions.


An understanding of mechanisms for managing change in organisations so future engineers are equipped to play a leadership role.


An awareness of a range of assessment frameworks, sustainability metrics and methodologies such as Life Cycle Analysis, Systems Dynamics, Multi-Criteria Decision making and Impact Assessment.