Sustainability Scientist

Dr. Lukas Fesenfeld

Research for Sustainability

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“As a researcher and father of two small children, I am dedicated to finding
solutions to the grand sustainability chal­lenges of the present and future generations."

I am an environmental governance and political economy researcher at the Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research and Policy Analysis and Environmental Governance group at the University of Bern. I am also a lecturer at ETH Zurich. My policy-centered and interdisciplinary research primarily focuses on studying politically feasible and effective governance levers for socio technical transformations that are necessary for achieving the UN Sustainable Development and Paris climate targets. Currently, I am involved in and lead several international research projects that focus on the comparative political economy of climate mitigation and the identification of successful pathways for transforming our global food system towards greater sustainability.

In my research, I use a portfolio of methods for policy feasibility and impact evaluation, mixing survey and field experimental approaches with qualitative methods. I also employ advanced econometrics, social network analysis, and computational social science methods.

My scientific work is published in peer-reviewed journals, including Nature Food, Nature Climate Change, One Earth, and Environmental Research Letters.


The food system causes up to 37 percent of all global greenhouse gases.1,2 The 1.5° and 2°C climate change targets are not achievable without transforming the food system, even if the emissions associated with all other sectors of the economy are completely reduced.3 However, thus far we still lack crucial knowledge about effective and politically feasible levers for accomplishing such transformation across different contexts. My research focuses on identifying and evaluating such levers. Achieving food system transformation requires the interplay of technological, behavioral, and policy innovations. Hence, I study how food policies can most effectively accelerate behavioral and technological changes, how policy-induced behavioral and technological innovations interact, and how this interplay feeds back into the political economy of food system transformation. Understanding such complex feedback dynamics is essential for accelerating systemic change. My most fundamental research motivation is thus to improve our understanding of how to trigger systemic rather than incremental change in food systems. In doing so, I take a global and comparative research perspective that combines insights from political economy, behavioral public policy, and transition studies.

In particular, animal products like red meat, and food waste contribute substantially to environmental problems and may preclude achieving the 2°C climate target, even if all other sectors are decarbonized. Yet, consumer habits, culture, and social norms play a determining role when it comes to food consumption and waste behavior. Policymakers tend to shy away from intervening into citizens’ personal lives because they fear political backlash. My research offers policy-relevant solutions to minimizing this trade-off between the effectiveness and political feasibility of food policies. For example, I study how differently designed packages of supply- and demand-side policies affect meat markets by inducing technological innovation in meat substitutes, altering the behaviors of actors across food supply chains (e.g., consumers, producers, investors), and feeding back into the political economy of food system transformation.

1. Poore, J. & Nemecek, T. Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers. Science (80-. ). 992, 987–992 (2018).
2. Rosenzweig, C. et al. Climate change responses benefit from a global food system approach. Nat. Food 1, 94–97 (2020).
3. Clark, M. A. et al. Global food system emissions could preclude achieving the 1.5° and 2°C climate change targets. Science 370, 705–708 (2020).