Humans of Oxford Net Zero: Sam Fankhauser

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The Humans of Oxford Net Zero was led by Charmian Love, a Social Entrepreneur in Residence at the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship, Saïd Business School, University of Oxford. 

Humans of Oxford Net Zero: Sam Fankhauser

“Justice is a big part of the net zero puzzle…and there are at least four justice elements; between countries, consumers, workers and future generations.”

Oxford Net Zero is an interdisciplinary research initiative based at the University of Oxford’s Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment (SSEE). It is embedded within the ecosystem of research on climate neutrality. Their research fellows, recruited from partner institutions from around the world, are working to accelerate the transition to a net-zero future.

In this series of conversations, you’ll hear about the work these experts are focused on and how their research can be applied to business. You’ll also get to hear their personal stories and achievements you wouldn’t otherwise read in their bio, where they get their inspiration and even what kind of music is on their playlist! Tune in to this series if you’re looking to be inspired, excited and hopeful about the important research underway at Oxford in creating a net-zero pathway for the world.

Learn more about the people behind Oxford Net-Zero at


Interviewee: Sam Fankhauser - Research Director, Oxford Net Zero

Interviewer: Charmian Love, Social Entrepreneur in Residence at the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship, Saïd Business School, University of Oxford

Key takeaways from the conversation


What big questions is Sam exploring?

Sam started his research career looking at the impact of climate change – and then figured out that if you look at impacts, you must study adaptation, because the impact is a function of how much you can adapt to those impacts. So, he moved from a focus on impacts to adaptation - which then led him to look at the limits to adaptation which brought him to the subject of emissions reduction.

At Oxford Net Zero, Sam is interested in the two key elements. On the ‘net’ side - the negative emissions that we might need to offset whatever we can't avoid anymore. On the ‘zero’ side - dealing with the difficult emissions that we still have ahead of us to reduce.


How would Sam like to see businesses engage in climate?

Sam believes that a big part of the solution comes from business - partly because they're a big part of the problem as well - a lot of the emissions have a business or industrial origin. He thinks part of the solution is businesses starting to manage their emissions - but not stopping there. Businesses are also good at innovation; businesses are good at investment – and so businesses will have to build the zero-carbon capital stock and devise zero-carbon solutions.

Sam is particularly fascinated by the need to build that entire new industry with all its supporting parts – including measurement systems, quality assurance systems, consulting, transport, and finance.


What advice does Sam have for students?

When asked in the past by young people – ‘what can I do about climate change?’ he used to say, ‘be noisy - make your point - tell people what needs to be done’.

But today, Sam acknowledges that young people are already doing this, so his new recommendation is to:

  • Start changing the system from within.
  • Study climate change. Develop the skills - the domain knowledge - the techniques that you need to reduce emissions
  • And then go and join companies that are in that space - or even companies that should be and aren't yet - and start changing them from within.


Interested in learning more about Climate Net Zero? Check out the Climate Neutrality Forum; led by Oxford Net Zero.