05/02 Vivien Fisch-Romito

Bridging human needs and carbon dioxide emissions reduction : the infrastructure dynamics at the core of the climate-development interplay

Vivien Fisch-Romito, under the supervision of Céline Guivarch


At 2pm in virtual



Infrastructures foster economic growth and provide essential services. At the same time, they shape energy supply and demand trends and require carbon-intensive building materials. However, their dynamics are subject to technical, economic and institutional constraints. In this thesis, I investigate how the evolution of global infrastructure stocks can reconcile development needs with the reduction of CO2 emissions. I focus on three bottlenecks: carbon lock-in – the inertia on future emissions reduction – induced by short-term development, limited funding for investment and carbon budget for sufficient short-term development. This thesis makes a contribution by highlighting certain conditions to be ensured so that infrastructures do not limit the feasibility of the climate-development conciliation.

As a first step, I systematic review the literature on infrastructure-induced carbon lock-in. I use a supervised machine learning approach to select relevant articles. I synthesize according to sectors and geographical areas the existing quantifications of carbon lock-in, the indicators used to measure it and qualitative statements mentioning policy implications to get out of it. I show that coal-fired power plants contribute significantly to global carbon lock-in and are exposed to the risk of stranded assets due to early retirement. Stranded assets are reduced if climate policies are put in place quickly. There is a need to ensure the legitimacy and long-term stability of these policies and coordination between infrastructure sectors. Carbon pricing should not be the only instrument used and should be complemented by regulation and financial support for the deployment of low-carbon capital.

In a second step, I quantify the needs for investment in transportation infrastructures in relation to different levels of climate ambitions. I build socio-economic scenarios with an integrated assessment model that explicitly represents the transport sector. I develop a module to quantify investment needs in line with future mobility trends. I apply a global sensitivity analysis to identify the determinants of investment needs. I show that investment needs decrease with increasing climate ambition but represent significant amounts compared to historical levels and needs in other sectors. Rail utilization level and road building costs are determining factors and could be levers to be activated to promote low-carbon trajectories with reduced costs.
Third, I assess whether a high level of access to five essential services – electricity, wa- ter, shelter, sanitation and transport – can be provided globally without compromising climate mitigation goals. I quantify in each country the needs for cement and steel based on historical trends. I then estimate the CO2 emissions associated with the manufacture of these materials by incorporating influencing factors such as production technologies, international trade patterns and mitigation measures in these industries. I show that providing high access to sanitation and transport can conflict with the existing low-carbon trajectories. These results suggest the need to limit the use of cement and steel through material efficiency or substitution to other less carbon-intensive construction materials.