Sensitive Intervention Points


Sensitive Intervention Points (SIPs) are when a small or moderate intervention leads to desirable transformational change. We’re working alongside the Post-Carbon Transition team to create a framework to better identify, understand, model, and trigger SIPs to rapidly decarbonise society. The Sensitive Intervention Points (SIPs) framework is helpful in bringing together complex systems thinking which is a way of looking at the interconnected relationships within a whole system, rather than analysing a system as individual elements.


Prof Cameron Hepburn explains SIPs at TEDxVienna

How can we identify SIPs?

There are two core elements to how SIPs can be triggered: kicks and shifts. In practice, a combination of both ‘kicks’ and ‘shifts’ is necessary to drive global emissions reductions. Our researchers have identified 9 ‘characteristics’ – aspects of a SIP that define the concept and helps to make the framework more practical, all of which can be seen in the graphic and are explained below.


  •  A ‘kick’ is when you alter a variable in an existing system that triggers a positive feedback dynamic, for example, a subsidy for green products alters the variable of price.


  • A ‘shift’ is where you fundamentally change the rules of the game to completely alter the system. This might include the establishment of an independent body to hold the government accountable to its climate targets or new laws to more stringently monitor the licensing of fossil fuel permits.

Characteristics of SIPs

Barriers to change

Transformational change often incites pushback and resistance. Common barriers include opposition from actors or entities who stand to lose out, administrative and regulatory challenges, and associated costs. The scale of these barriers are an important factor to consider and strategies for overcoming them should be integral to the design of a SIP.

Uncertainty of impacts

Although we can try to model and study the implications of an intervention point, relying on dynamic elements such as positive feedbacks inherently involves risk. For example, risks associated with a rapid transition away from fossil fuels include stranded assets, job losses and the potential of destablising our financial systems. Consideration of these impacts are important when designing a SIP.


There are often trade-offs between the objectives of a SIP and other policy objectives of a wide range of stakeholders. Consideration should be given to the implications of these trade-offs. When designing SIPs for decarbonisation, the Sustainable Development Goals can be a useful first step or checklist in exploring trade-offs.

Path dependence

A key element of the SIPs framework is that the intervention should create a ‘lock-in’ effect so that the positive impacts cannot easily be reversed. For example, interventions that drive down technology costs are beneficial in this regard as it is unlikely the associated innovation and learning that drove such cost reductions will be forgotten. By contrast, interventions to be wary of include partisan policies that rely on the success of a specific political party.

Speed of impact

Time is of the essence as the world attempts to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees compared to pre-industrial levels. Consideration must be given to the growth rate of the feedback dynamic and how long it will take to have a significant impact.

Unintended consequences

In addition to considering the uncertainty of impacts, we should also be aware of triggering unintended consequences. When designing a SIP it is essential to assess, through modelling or expert opinion, the potential for undesirable or irreversible changes. And furthermore, look for adaptions and solutions if the SIP is at risk of triggering and unintended consequences.

Size of impact

In conjunction with the speed of impact, the size of impact is an important factor in assessing the viability of a SIP. The impact of the intervention must be greater than the cost or effort involved.  This can be assessed through modelling the intervention, or in the absence of data, expert opinion may be sufficient.

Windows of opportunity

Timing is key to the success of an intervention. When looking to implement a SIP we must consider if the system is ripe for change. This might include a change in political landscape, an external shock (eg. COVID-19), or a system that is nearing a tipping point. However, windows of opportunity can open and close quickly, therefore monitoring these systems is extremely important.

Key actors and institutions

When designing a SIP it is important to understand and identify the relevant sources of agency as well as the feasibility of gaining the support required to successfully implement said SIP. In conjunction with assessing barriers to change, it is useful to consider the number of actors involved and if that will create administrative or logistical challenges. 

examples of sensitive intervention points

Climate aligned debt restructuring

Climate-aligned debt restructuring mechanisms present a key Sensitive Intervention Point for an equitable and global ‘green-recovery’ post-Covid (Steel & Patel, 2020). This can be achieved through ‘debt-for-nature’ swaps which divert resources from debt service payments towards domestic investment in conservation for recipient countries. 

A new wave of debt restructuring proposals have also been proposed in recent years which could overcome some of the challenges of traditional ‘debt-for-nature’ swaps through a more international scope which encourages multi-stakeholder collaboration and coordination.

policies for clean energy technology investment

Existing policy support for clean energy technologies has already propagated declining costs. For example, subsidising measures for solar PV in Germany have led to a 10-fold reduction in costs since policy implementation in 2009. With 88% of global emissions now covered by net zero pledges, global policy instruments to incentivise investment in clean energy technology and further drive costs down present a key sensitive intervention point.

Sensitive intervention points to achieve net-zero emissions

Alongside the Committee on Climate Change’s (CCC’s) work on the Sixth Carbon Budget, the CCC convened an expert policy advisory group to provide input on how cross-sectoral policy can complement their existing approach to policy advice. The group was chaired by Professor Cameron Hepburn, Director of the Post-Carbon Transition Programme.

Key findings

The authors concluded that the transition to Net Zero can and will occur, and will leave a positive legacy for future generations. They examined the UK as a complex adaptive system and identified recommendations for accelerating progress and reducing the risks of failure. The Group recognised an opportunity for Sensitive Intervention Points (SIPs) coinciding with these recommendations, pointing to opportunities to accelerate a transition towards Net Zero by exploiting socio-economic tipping points.

Climate Neutrality Forum

over 1000 academics and climate policy experts came together to discuss SIPs

On 8 and 9 September 2021, the first Climate Neutrality Forum (CNF) brought together over 1,000 academics and climate policy experts in a multi-hub hybrid meeting held in Berlin, Oxford and Milan. This was followed by six weekly webinars held in the lead up to COP26.  

The forum explored challenges and key policy interventions for achieving climate neutrality. The CNF was informed by the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) during its 6th Assessment Cycle, in particular the IPCC Special Report on Warming of 1.5 C (SR1.5) and the IPCC Working Group I report on Scientific Understanding of Climate Change, published in August 2021.  

Climate neutrality is considered to mean a cessation of further warming of the Earth’s climate system by atmospheric greenhouse gases. It is aligned with, and informed by, the Paris Agreement temperature goal to hold “the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C.”  

The forum explored Sensitive Intervention Points for achieving climate neutrality and provided recommendations for policy makers.