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Keynote Speaker to explore challenges in getting climate neutrality right

Profile: Prof. Dr. Matthias Finkbeiner, Chair of Sustainable Engineering and Managing Director of Dept of Environmental Technology at Technical University Berlin


Prof. Dr. Matthias Finkbeiner, Chair of Sustainable Engineering and Managing Director at Technical University Berlin will be a keynote speaker at the ALCAS Conference in July 2023, bringing with him a wealth of experience in the implementation and regulation of life cycle assessment in Europe.


As well as his roles with the Technical University Berlin, Prof. Finkbeiner is also a Guest Professor at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences. He is Editor in Chief of the International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment. He serves on the Advisory Board of The Institut Bauen and Umwelt e.V. (IBU) as Europe’s leading organisation for environmental product declarations (EPDs) in the building sector. He was Chair of the ISO-Committee TC207/SC5 for Life Cycle Assessment for nine years and a member of the International Life Cycle Board (ILCB) of the UNEP’s Life Cycle Initiative. He also served on the Advisory Board of the German Ecolabel Blue Angel.


Earlier in his career, he was Manager for Life Cycle Engineering at the Design-for-Environment Department for Mercedes-Benz Cars at Daimler AG. He holds an MBA in Sustainability Management and further degrees in Environmental Science, Environmental Economics and Environmental Law.


We are very lucky to have the benefit of Prof. Finkbeiner’s experience and perspective. In anticipation, we spoke to him about what drew him into environmental science, his experiences in Europe and China, and what he plans to address at the ALCAS Conference.


You have dedicated your career to environmental and sustainability management, research and development. What first drew you into this sector and what keeps you going?


I was interested in many things and had difficulty limiting myself to a specific subject for my studies. Therefore, I selected environmental science as it covers a broad set of disciplines from geology, biology, hydrology, atmospheric science and more. Of course, I was also motivated by the relevance of the topic for daily and global life, which then even brings interfaces to further disciplines like economics, behavioral science and law.


This somehow also still keeps me going as the topic is more relevant than ever and also fact-based decision-making support in this domain is urgently needed. I also really appreciate, that there is still so much to learn and basically every project comes with some new insights, how things are produced, which impacts they have and what can be done to improve things.


Given your current roles as Chair of Sustainable Engineering at Technische University Berlin, former Chair of the ISO-Committee and member of the International Life Cycle Board of LCI you have a bird's eye view of European trends in sustainability research, thinking and action. What, in your opinion, are the major developments and trends that will drive European climate action over the next few years?


A main driver is now obviously the ambitious targets policy sets. While ambition is good and there is no doubt about the urgency, the targets still need to be realistic as otherwise they are only achieved on paper and the real-world emissions still rise.


Decarbonizing the energy, mobility and food sectors seem to be priorities, but there are still a couple of things, that are unresolved – depending on the actor you look at. As for the countries, they just track production-related emissions and in Europe, just like other wealthy regions, we import a lot for our consumption, which is not accounted for. So next to the usual reduction strategies, I hope, that an appropriate accounting for different stakeholders will become available. This includes also offsetting.


I also hope, that despite the climate urgency, we understand that environment, let alone sustainability, means more than just GHG emissions and we must watch the trade-offs for some of the measures we take.


You are also a Guest Professor at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences. In your observation, is China dealing with the climate crisis differently from Europe? Are there lessons the West can learn from the Chinese approach?


This is a tough one as it leads me on thin ice. My guest professorship was heavily impacted by COVID as it basically came to a stop just after we had the first exchanges and visits and my insights into the decision-making processes there is still limited. What can be seen, is that the decision-making is often more pragmatic and there is more focus on opportunities than risks. Therefore, things can be decided and implemented faster. However, this obviously as a political price.


This year’s ALCAS conference theme is “Responding to the climate emergency: metrics and tools for rational action.” You haven’t finalised your keynote address topic yet, but can you give us some indication of how you will be able to contribute to the overarching theme?


Basically, I plan the explore some of the challenges in getting the climate neutrality equation right and how we as LCA community can contribute to it. Many policies and many of the current reporting schemes do not yet embrace the life cycle perspective and therefore, they are not fully fit for purpose. This applies to all elements from the reduction and use of renewable energy to offsetting. It is also interesting to understand the differences in the established and emerging accounting schemes for different actors, from nations, regions, cities, public and private organizations to individuals.


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