AXA IM unveils climate research winner

Exclusive: Dr. Floor van der Hilst receives €100,000 prize for her 'Sustainability of Bioenergy' research.

AXA Investment Managers has awarded €100,000 ($114,513) to Dr. Floor van der Hilst, from Utrecht University (Netherlands), the winner of the group’s inaugural Climate Transition Award, ESG Clarity reveals.

The accolade is for her research on ‘Sustainability of Bioenergy’ which focuses on changes in land-use dynamics as a result of biomass production.

Biomass is expected to play an important role in the future energy supply if we are to keep the global temperature rise well below 2°C. However, the large-scale deployment of biomass for bioenergy and other novel biobased applications have raised several sustainability concerns, such as greenhouse gas mitigation potential, the impact on biodiversity, soil quality and water availability as well as socio-economic impacts such as food security.

Van der Hilst’s research looks these sustainability impacts related to land-use change resulting from biomass feedstock production, and the environmental and socio-economic impact of land-use change induced by bioenergy production. She found the sustainability of bioenergy production is greatly affected by the location of its feedstock production and for these reasons, very little can be stated in general terms on the sustainability of bioenergy.

“The uncertainty on the sustainability of bioenergy hampers implementation and therefore also impedes meeting climate change mitigation targets,” her research found.

AXA Investment Managers announced the Climate Transition Award, in collaboration with AXA Research Fund, in September to recognise first class scientific research on climate change mitigation.

Areas recognised by the award included:

  1. Innovative solutions and approaches to mitigation to reach net-zero by 2050. 
  2. Nature-based solutions as a key component of our climate transition, both in terms of mitigation and adaptation. Effectiveness and co-existence with other proposed solutions. 
  3. Measurement and tracking as the crux of the climate change issue, both in terms of assessing our limits and the extent of success or failure in reducing CO2 levels and other pollutants. For example, carbon pricing or alternative approaches to financial and economic incentives to CO2 (and other warming gas) reductions and measurement methodologies for both GHG emissions reduction and CO2 removal.
  4. Beyond CO2, the reduction of other shorter-lived climate forcers as a contribution to warming reduction. 

AXA IM said numerous applications were received from researchers across the globe covering topics including sustainable finance; blue carbon; sustainability of bioenergy; climate responsive and climate adaptive architecture; agricultural economics and policy; coastal adaptation with nature-based solutions; urban challenges and new chemistry to create batteries.

Commenting on the winner’s research, The Selection Committee, comprised of a climate research scientist, an institutional investor and representatives from AXA Group, said: “We examined the list of applicants with the utmost attention, looking at the robustness and quality of the science, the relevance to the award theme and the ability of the researcher to communicate her/his work. The potential benefit to society was also a major criterion. Dr. Van der Hilst’s research included a strong socioeconomic and environmental focus, which is key to affecting the environmental change we need.”

Marie Bogataj, head of the AXA Research Fund and group foresight, and Marco Morelli, executive chairman at AXA IM, both commented: “Research has played a pivotal role in the fight against climate change and its impact on our society. Continued support from – and for – the scientific community is at the heart of the transition to a net zero world. Science is key and continues to provide a number of pathways for the climate transition and major areas are yet to be tackled. With the AXA IM Climate Transition Award, we are seeking to combat climate-related risks and have a positive impact on society. We are very proud to see that this award will help Dr. Van der Hilst continue her research and benefit the planet, people and communities.”