A Systems Approach

January 8, 2016


Professor Ekundayo Shittu sitting on a bench

Dr. Ekundayo Shittu

Professor Ekundayo Shittu of the Department of Engineering Management and Systems Engineering studies the economics of global climate change and how public policy should be structured in response to global climate change concerns.

While he acknowledges that disagreements exist about the causes of climate change, he works within the school of thought that human actions are largely responsible for climate change; therefore, he tries through his research to discern the optimal policies that decision makers can enact to encourage firms and individuals to adopt sustainable policies and practices. Traditionally, efforts to study and optimize public policy decision making have been hived off into separate disciplines: economists tend to focus on cost-benefit analyses, while public health researchers look at the impact on public health, and engineers assess the adoption of new technologies. However, Professor Shittu has another approach.

“I take a systems engineering approach,” he says. “I build on research tools from economics, decision theory, statistics, optimization modeling, and environmental policy to achieve a more robust solution, particularly in the face of multiple and sequential uncertainties.”

Because changing regulatory policies can create a great deal of uncertainty for firms trying to plan for future operations and investments, the mix and appropriateness of policies can affect how quickly firms adopt sustainability practices. Likewise, a number of factors affect how well individuals exhibit behaviors that the policies may try to encourage, such as switching to renewable resources or retrofitting conventional technologies in their homes. Even beyond that, the policies also can have unanticipated consequences that impact other public policy goals such as poverty alleviation.

“When you look at new technologies, such as solar panels, most people stop at asking what’s the cost of installing the panels,” Professor Shittu explains. “I take it a step further and ask what are the social welfare costs of the solution and whether a particular system will accommodate those costs.”

Professor Shittu already is being recognized for his research. For example, he was invited by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to participate in writing Chapter Two of its Fifth Assessment Report, titled “Integrated Risk and Uncertainty Assessment of Climate Change Response Policies,” which was published last April.

Professor Shittu is thrilled that others see the value of his approach. “When you have a systems engineer look at these problems, they understand the economics and the technology,” he states. “It’s a classic case of having the right toolbox to address the problem in a holistic manner.”