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MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

Balancing rapid recarbonization and the Energy Trilemma in fossil fuel dependent countries using systems mapping

The Earth’s temperature trajectory is predicted to surpass habitable thresholds, and the need for major energy system transformations has become blatantly apparent. Evidently, burning fossil fuels exacerbates climate change, yet most countries still heavily depended on carbonemitting fuels across all sectors of society. Securing future sustainable energy systems demands rapid decarbonization while simultaneously balancing the three dimensions of the Energy Trilemma – energy security, energy equity, and environmental sustainability. While several publications investigate the Energy Trilemma and the feasibility of various decarbonization pathways, there is limited research which analyzes the consequences of swift decarbonization in a broader sustainable development context across all dimensions of the trilemma. This research uses a novel approach which merges Sankey diagrams and causal loop diagrams to identify the role of fossil fuels in the top two energy-intensive countries -United States and China - and assesses the broader socio-economic and environmental implications of phasing out coal, oil, and gas.

The research underscores the importance of achieving a balanced energy system and the integral role energy plays in promoting the SDGs. Furthermore, the analysis pinpoints several reinforcing feedback loops across the transportation, residential, and industrial sectors, which highlights the current fossil fuel dependencies and exposes the Energy Trilemma imbalances. These feedback loops were analyzed to identify key leverage points to guide politicians, governments, and policymakers in determining essential action priorities for future decarbonization solutions. The most important priorities pinpoint strengthening China’s industrial energy and material efficiency and improving sustainable urbanization through the development of 15-minute cities and increased residential efficiency. In addition, several synergies between the U.S. and China pinpoint opportunities for both countries to decarbonize simultaneously by implementing a combination of solutions focused on reducing U.S. energy exports, developing a domestic industrial sector within the U.S., and increasing foreign direct investments into China’s clean energy industries.

Implementing these action priorities can guide governments and policymakers with a systems-based assessment that highlights critical leverage points for evaluating important socio-economic and environmental tradeoffs for shaping future energy landscapes.


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.