Overline: Cross-national dialogue
Headline: Problems and Solutions for Decarbonisation and Energy Transition

Decarbonisation, the lowering of greenhouse gas emissions, and energy transition are among the most important social and technical challenges that humanity currently faces. These challenges mainly arise due to the increasing pressures of climate change, which is largely caused by GHG emissions, most of which arise from the burning of fossil fuels.

However, human problems exist in a social context and the difficulties of transition are not purely technical but are dramatically increased by social factors and processes. ‘Modern’ industrial/post-industrial society has been supported by cheap easily available fossil fuel energy. The social system has encouraged the dumping of pollution, including greenhouse gases, without much care for the ecological consequences. Economic and power structures have grown together with the social formations fashioned around this organisation and use of technology, and those structures appear to resist change, both conceptually and in terms of action; they may even resist recognition of problems.

While change is happening, it is possible to question is whether the change is happening fast enough, or if it is slowing real solutions and the development and use of new technologies. Similarly, old habits may remain, as when corporations install renewable energy in ways that have harmful consequences, even if those consequences are less deleterious than those that come with fossil fuels.

In addition, different narratives about the transition compete for local, national and international recognition. The technocratic narrative assumes that the transition can be managed by technological innovation and replacement of fossil fuel by green alternatives. The behavioural narrative is based on the assumption that lifestyles need to be drastically changed to accommodate the need for less energy and material consumption. Furthermore, some narratives emphasize the need for decentralized locally adapted solutions while others design centralized, global solutions. Finally, there is a debate whether changes can be implemented by market incentives (such as cap and trade) or by direct policy interventions such as setting deadlines for phasing-out coal or prohibiting combustion engines for cars. It is important to investigate how these choices embedded in different narratives impact local communities and in particular social justice and fairness.

This conference aims to specify the problems of transition with greater precision so they may be overcome, and investigate the modes of change in action, the inhibitions to change, possible solutions (from community energy to degrowth) and to gain greater understanding of examples of failed transitions as well as successful ones. Due to the interactions of so many factors: social, ecological, technological, economic, philosophical etc., unintended consequences are likely to arise and disrupt attempts at organised change and may need to be factored-in.

The conference aims to explore the following kinds of questions:

  • What are the processes by which renewable energy and other forms of decarbonisation gain the widest possible sense of social, political and economic ‘legitimacy’ and how is that legitimacy undermined?
  • In what ways do legitimacy processes work in different social contexts?
  • Which of the present narratives have the power to be convincing for whom and what impacts can we expect from each with respect to effectiveness, efficiency, resilience and social justice?
  • What new forms of social organisation or action, help the change?
  • What are the new conceptions which help change and make that change appear imperative?
  • What policies or actions can be recommended for different ‘levels’ of society to help the change?
  • What are the specific factors inhibiting change and how can they be overcome?
  • How does technology of transformation interact with other social dynamics?
  • How does technology of transformation interact with other social dynamics?

This list of questions is not intended to be exhaustive: any account which considers the social dynamics of transition under climate change is welcome.

Organisers: Climate Justice Research Centre at the University of Technology Sydney; Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (Potsdam); Climate and Energy Policy Research Lab at the Indian Institute of Technology (Kanpur); Global Institute of Sustainability and Innovation, Arizona State University.   
Register:  https://decarbenergy.net/conference-december-2021  
Zoom URL: https://utsmeet.zoom.us/j/8637645831 Password: 345711
Interpretation subtitles available. All sessions will be recorded.   
Further Info: james [dot] goodman [at] uts [dot] edu [dot] au