Keynote talks

How we can Halt a Runaway Climate

yphillisProfessor Yannis A. Phillis

Department of Production Engineering and Management

Technical University of Crete

Chania 73100, Greece


Climate change is one of the most urgent problems facing the Earth. Its facets are multiple: environmental, economic, and social, and its consequences could become dire if drastic and concerted action is not taken immediately. Climate change is already exerting a host of stresses on the environment and the society that will intensify with time. In the face of this reality, humanity has done little to avert possible catastrophes. Puzzling as this behavior might appear at first, it can be partially explained by behavioral economics and psychology. The goal of this talk is twofold. First, it investigates the question of whether the UN goal of 2°C temperature rise above preindustrial level is still attainable in an optimal sense and what reductions are needed to achieve it. Second, the paper makes a connection between such reductions and certain behavioral aspects that could make the reductions a reality. These two goals might appear technically distinct – and to some extent, they are. However, there exists a strong cause-and-effect connection between the two since sharp emissions reductions require strong political consensus on the part of politicians, decision makers, and citizens that hinge upon human behavior.

A climate model is used in conjunction with an economic model to examine emissions and temperature dynamics under certain economic growth scenarios. Consumption, carbon emissions, and resulting temperature trajectories are then optimized so that a utility function is maximized with the goal of keeping temperature rise within 2°C above preindustrial levels. Two measures of satisfaction from consumption are considered: a logarithmic utility and a novel, hump-shaped function. The latter is consistent with recent findings about the relation between life satisfaction and income. A meta-analysis follows that links the optimal emissions trajectories with corresponding behavioral requirements. Thus, climate action is presented in a more integral way whereby technical and behavioral attributes are systematically connected. It is demonstrated that:

  • the 2°C target is theoretically still achievable, but it hinges upon very drastic measures to be taken almost immediately;
  • in a few years we shall exit the 2-degree controllability region and higher temperatures should be expected;
  • public cognition of and attitude towards climate change should change in a quantifiable sense;
  • this is one of those interdisciplinary problems that need not only hard science and technology to be resolved but also psychology, the humanities and just plain citizens’ action.


Yannis A. Phillis received his diploma in electrical and mechanical engineering from the National Technical University of Athens, Greece, in 1973 and the MSc, Engineer Degree, and PhD degrees in control systems from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) in 1978, 1979, and 1980 respectively. From 1980 to 1986, he was with Boston University, Boston, MA. Since 1986, he has been with the Department of Production Engineering and Management, Technical University of Crete, Chania, Greece, where he is professor and director of the CAM Laboratory. In 1992 and between 2005 and 2007 he was visiting professor at UCLA’s Chemical Engineering Department. In 2008 he was Onassis Foundation Senior Visiting Fellow in the US. His research interests are in stochastic control, discrete-event systems, and applications in manufacturing networks and environmental systems.

Dr. Phillis is a member of the Executive Board of the Journal of Intelligent and Robotic Systems, Advisory Board Member for the IEEE Systems Journal, Associate Editor for the International Journal of Engineering Management, Member of the Editorial Advisory Board for the Environmental Engineering and Management Journal, and was on the Editorial Board of the Encyclopedia of Life Support Systems, and past Editor of the IEEE Robotics and Automation Magazine.

He is the recipient of numerous honors among which Professor of the Year Award at Boston University, 1986; Award by the Academy of Athens for his environmental activities, 2007; Fellow of the Venizelos Research Institute in Greece, 2006; Awards by the Municipalities of Chania and Assini, Greece in 2005 and 2008, respectively for his service to society, science, and letters; Lifetime Achievement Award at the World Automation Conference 2010, Kobe, Japan; and Academic Alumni Professional Achievement Award, UCLA, 2013.

Dr. Phillis was Rector of the Technical University of Crete for 12 years. He has published over 120 scientific papers and four technical books. He is an award winning writer in Greece and the US. He is a Fellow of AAAS; a Senior Member of IEEE; and Member of Sigma Xi; Poets and Writers, USA; P.E.N. Club; and the European Art Center, Athens.