Interview with winner Cristian Pons-Seres de Brauwer
Cristian Pons-Seres de Brauwer, LUCSUS, is the winner of the Centre for European Studies’ Best Thesis Award 2019. We have asked Cristian some questions about his thesis Towards a citizen-driven low-carbon energy transition. Exploring the potential for collective investment schemes in community renewable energy in Europe to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Why did you find it important to write about the EU in your thesis?
In the context of energy & resource consumption, it is important to acknowledge that today Europe stands as the third largest greenhouse gas (GHG) emitter in the world, just behind China and the United States. The corresponding responsibility emerging from such an energy and resource consumption profile cannot be understated, hence the importance and relevance to write about the EU in my thesis.
At the same time, the EU has been consistently attempting to position itself as the global climate leader emerging from the Paris Agreement of 2015. While it has taken important steps that speak out to such an ambition (see for instance the ‘Clean Energy for all Europeans package’), these are by no means sufficient to realise a decarbonised economy by 2050, nor to maintain a socioeconomic development pathway consistent with a 2°C global warming threshold. That combination of attempted climate leadership and carbon intense development offered both a challenging context as well as an opportunity to develop solutions-driven research on what I believe is the most defiant challenge of my generation: global climate change.
Your thesis is explicitly aiming at contributing new knowledge to actors outside academia. Was this important to you and was this an easy choice? Why?
Throughout my two-year studies in Lund, many scholars have told me how important it is to produce knowledge that addresses people beyond the academic community. Tailoring research that speaks to individual citizens and, in doing so, empowers them to take action, is what makes scientific research such a transformative tool for change. It was therefore important for me to direct my research towards a broader audience, which in my case has been both a challenge as well as a source of inspiration.
On the other hand, early on in my idea formulation I had the ambition to contribute knowledge that could, in some capacity, inform the policy debate around Europe’s low-carbon energy transition. I have therefore tried to produce a normative and policy-relevant research that can also speak to a specialised audience about the policy and regulatory intricacies for effectively unlocking European citizens’ potential to co-drive Europe’s decarbonisation pathway. This was of paramount importance for me and a priority throughout the development of my research.
Do you have any tips for students wanting to write a good thesis about an EU-related topic?
From my experience, establishing collaborative alliances with external stakeholders early on in my idea development process has been instrumental in realising a robust, well-structured research output afterwards. In my case, I reached out to dozens of stakeholders from 7 different countries (including external research institutes, European and national industry associations, MEPs, and private sector companies) to explore potential partnerships where I could conduct my own research.
This was quite a challenging exercise, as it forced me to step out of my comfort zone and constantly persuade people who were not as familiar (or enthusiastic) about my research topic. It was, however, an important first step and fundamental building block for later stage developments. I would therefore like to stress the importance of partnership-building for successfully tackling your own research proposal, as this may expose you to completely new ways of thinking, different methodological approaches, and theoretical tools that can only benefit one’s own academic development and intellectual curiosity.
But most importantly, staying firm in your ambitions and capabilities – especially during times of self-doubt or hesitation – remains, in my opinion, the most powerful instrument for successfully realising your own research endeavour. Trusting the unknown, as difficult as this has been, has eventually led me to craft a research pathway in partnership with some extraordinarily competent individuals while at the same time served me to start building my own expertise on Europe’s climate and energy legislative efforts.