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The nature of transitions: Implications for the transition to a low carbon economy

June 2016 – The second of three working papers exploring the meaning of a 'just transition' to a low carbon economy. Here, an overview of theoretical approaches relevant to transitions is presented. Through the mapping of key interdisciplinary approaches on the topic, the paper aims to assist the management of transition processes, the assessment of its outcomes, as well as deliberative decision-making regarding the future of on-going transitions.

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Publication date

June 2016

Abstract

This working paper is the second in a set of three working papers exploring the meaning of a ´just transition´ to a low carbon economy. Here an overview of theoretical approaches relevant to transitions is presented. Through the mapping of key interdisciplinary approaches on the topic, the paper aims to assist the management of transition processes, the assessment of its outcomes, as well as deliberative decision-making regarding the future of on-going transitions.   

Seven bodies of academic literature are briefly reviewed. These are (i) the techno-economic approach; (ii) the socio-ecological transitions approach; (iii) the technological innovation systems approach; (iv) the multilevel perspective, which encompasses three approaches, namely strategic niche management, transition management, and reflexive governance; (v) the social practices approach; (vi) the resilience approach; (vii) and a human geography perspective, which explicitly considers aspects of social and environmental justice across space and time. Each can be critiqued for what it fails to incorporate, but the academic literature provides researchers, business leaders and policymakers with a range of often complementary lenses with which to assess current transitions and alternative futures. Considering this issue from a variety of perspectives may help to identify dimensions of the problem that may eventually be neglected or less scrutinised.

The paper concludes with an attempt to distil key messages from each strand of academic literature in a way that may provide business executives and policy leaders with new lines of enquiry and analysis when assessing current transition efforts and alternative paths, especially those that may lead us towards a more just transition to low carbon development.  

Authors

Dr André Silveira, Postdoctoral Researcher, CISL

CISL’s work on a Just Transition to a Low Carbon Economy is informed and guided by a cross-organisation working group: Lindsay Hooper, Mike Pierce, Louise Drake, Tom Herbstein, Eliot Whittington, Kayla Friedman, and Nikki Bartlett.

Citation

Silveira, A. (2016), 'The nature of transitions: Implications for the transition to a low carbon economy', University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL), Working Paper 03/2016

Dr André Silveira has conducted post-doctoral research on the meanings of justice, transition and just transition at CISL. He is currently a post-doctoral researcher in the Institute of Social Sciences, University of Lisbon, and a member of its research group on environment and society. In 2014 he completed a PhD at the University of Cambridge on the adaptive capacity of water governance systems in China and Western Europe.

About our working papers

Working papers are circulated for discussion purposes only. Their contents should be considered preliminary and are not to be quoted without the authors' permission. All views expressed are those of the author.

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