Date and time
Convenors: Will Eadson (Sheffield Hallam University) and Laura Norris (Cardiff University)
Policy aimed towards sustainability transitions is beginning to have fundamental effects on how economic activity is organised across cities and regions. Growing calls in the wake of Covid-19 for a ‘green recovery’ heighten the possibilities for radical transformation of economies, albeit with a wide range of potential pathways, from radical degrowth to revamped low carbon capitalism. These changes are prompting reflection from scholars across the field of regional studies and economic geography. How might we better understand the different impacts (and possibilities) of a sustainable (or ‘green’) economy?
This seminar series will invite leading scholars from across these fields to present cutting edge theoretical and empirical work. Through stimulating discussion and debate about ways forward for understanding economic geographies of sustainability transitions, policy and academic communities can be brought together. The webinar series is run by the RSA’s Yorkshire and Humberside Branch and supported by the RSA. It is free and open to all and runs monthly from October to February 2021.
Regional pathways to Sustainability Transition
Camilla Chlebna and Jannika Mattes, Carl von Ossietzky University Oldenburg, Germany
Camilla Chlebna is a postdoctoral researcher in the working group for Organisation and Innovation within the Institute for Social Sciences at the University of Oldenburg. She participates in the REENEA project on regional energy transitions in German regions. Camilla studied Regional Planning and Development at the University of Technology in Vienna, Austria, followed by a Masters and PhD at Oxford Brookes University in the UK. In her PhD she compared the development of the wind energy industry in Germany and the UK.
Jannika Mattes is Professor of Organisation and Innovation and Emmy Noether research group leader (project REENEA) at the Carl von Ossietzky University Oldenburg, Germany. She studied European Business Studies in Bamberg, Germany, and Granada, Spain, and wrote her PhD on the embeddedness of collaborative innovation projects in multinational companies. Research interests include innovation studies, collaborative innovation, regional embeddedness and sustainability transitions.
The recent paper by Camilla and Jannika on The fragility of regional energy transitions argues that transition processes on the regional level remain fragile throughout. They are especially susceptible to dynamics at the local, regional, national and international level. Actors need to respond to these fragile conditions to stabilise the environment for the transition to proceed. A case study from Oldenburg exemplifies this.
REENEA stands for Regional Energy Transitions. The project takes the social dynamics involved in processes of energy transition in focus. The regional level and the wind energy sector are at the centre of attention for the project but interdependencies with and impacts on the supra-regional context (national, international and global) as well as other sectors are also considered. The change processes taking place in the regional wind energy sector are analysed in detail in six regions in Germany through mainly qualitative research methods
REENEA combines competencies from sociology, political sciences, economics and economic geography. Together the team develops innovative, inter-disciplinary concepts to complement existing approaches in transition theory. The role of actors from different societal fields (politics, administration, industry, science, finance, representative bodies and civil society) in the regional innovation and transformation process is analysed.
Think global, act local? Global innovation systems and their differential effects on regional ‘green’ path creation
Speaker: Christian Binz – Eawag, Switzerland and CIRCLE, Lund University, Sweden
Christian Binz is a tenure-track group leader at the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology (Eawag), and an affiliate member at CIRCLE, Lund University, Sweden. His main research interest revolves around the geography of sustainability transitions. By combining insights from transition studies, economic geography and institutional sociology, he aims to explore how multi-scalar dynamics hinder or support radical innovation in clean-tech industries and sustainability transitions in key infrastructure sectors like water, energy or urban transport.
This talk will discuss the complex relationships between global sector structures and regional path creation dynamics in cleantech industries. I will argue that whether and how regions or cities are able to develop and anchor new paths in ‘green’ industries, intimately depends on the respective industries’ global innovation system structures. Based on recent empirical evidence from the water and energy sectors, I will show that what often looks like inherently ‘regional’ transition trajectories is in fact strongly influenced by actors and innovation dynamics at other spatial scales. Regional innovation policies and governance strategies aiming to induce green path creation thus have to be reflexive of a given industry’s multi-scalar innovation and valuation characteristics.
Spatial Divisions of Low Carbon Labour
Dr Aiden While, University of Sheffield, UK
Dr Will Eadson, Sheffield Hallam University, UK
In this presentation, Aidan While and Will Eadson set out a way of understanding low carbon transition as a process of economic restructuring, paying attention to the state’s role in mediating emergent ‘spatial divisions of low carbon labour’. Decarbonisation is set to be a powerful force of economic restructuring, creating new economic opportunities, but threatening jobs and investment in sectors unable to adjust to fossil fuel divestment. A pressing issue for ‘just transitions’ is whether low carbon economic restructuring is likely to challenge or reinforce prevailing geographies of spatial inequality and labour market (dis)advantage. The spatial divisions of labour approach foregrounds questions of employment, training and pathways to employment as key dimensions of just transition, providing a framework for analysis and intervention. Aidan and Will open up new critical perspectives on low carbon transitions, thinking about decarbonisation as a form of spatial economic restructuring and its potential implications in reinforcing and/or working against existing patterns of uneven spatial development.
State Mediation and Renewable Energy Geographies: On the Role of Regions in Energy Transitions
Carla De Laurentis, Cardiff University, UK
This talk will focus on the role of regions in implementing renewable energy policies, examining the relationship between state policy and renewable energy deployment. Using evidence from comparative case studies, two regions in Italy and two devolved territories in the UK, Carla will tease out some differences in terms of regional competencies to implement renewable energy policies across the two countries. While the regions investigated display differences in their incentives, capacities and capabilities to increase renewable energy deployment, their ability to act is very much influenced by nation-states, stressing the important role of the state in mediating the form and direction of renewable energy deployment. The paper highlights how the relationship between state policy and regional renewable deployment has been influenced by the intersection between state regulation and questions of energy policy and this has strong implications for the practice and outcome of territorial governance.
Rethinking the Concept of Innovation in City and Urban Sustainability Transitions
Speaker: Lars Coenen, Western Norway University of Applied Sciences, Norway
Innovation is a central concept in the bourgeoning literature on sustainability transitions and related analytical frameworks such as the Multi Level Perspective (MLP) and Technological Innovation Systems (TIS). Informed by research on sustainability transitions, the understanding of innovation has broadened considerably, taking it beyond its initial techno-economic paradigm. Also in policy-making, transition studies have become increasingly influential as innovation is used as a boundary object to cut across different policy domains. Directionality and ‘missions’ are nowadays part-and-parcel of innovation policies. Moreover, its generally positive connotation which overlooked social and environmental downsides has become increasingly questioned. There is now a growing interest and focus on ‘other’ forms and types of innovation, an increased reflexivity about the productive and noxious effects and consequences of innovation and greater analytical sensitivity to contested innovations and associated dilemmas. This talk seeks to take stock with this evolving conceptualisation of innovation and to identify critical implications for analyses of city and regional sustainability transitions.
Technology Trajectories in Less-developed Regions: The Co-evolution of Design and Economic Development
Speaker: Laura Norris, Cardiff University, UK
The study of sustainable transitions increasingly considers the role of geography, with cities and the context of developing countries particularly addressed. However, due to the natural resources required in the operation of renewable energy technology, less-developed regions are now witnessing an influx of radical innovations. Drawing on multiple spatial perspectives, the presentation considers how the region within which a technology is developed impacts technology design and proliferation. This includes antecedent industries, policy agendas, institutions and level of economic development. Furthermore, these niche technology innovations transform the place where they are developed through the introduction of new knowledge, adaptation of existing industries, and attraction of new innovative entrants. As such, the evidence suggests that these outcomes might be pursued by regional actors, influencing both economic development and technology design.
Cash Cows? Configuring Low-carbon Agriculture through Green Finance
Speaker: Bregje van Veelen, Uppsala University, Sweden
I am a social scientist with an interest in how low carbon transitions are shaped. There are three main strands to my research: (1) the role of sub- and trans-national actors in low carbon governance, from community groups to the financial industry; (2) the temporal dynamics of high carbon lock in and phase out; and (3) the potential for low carbon transitions to contribute to societal transformation and political democratisation. I currently work as a researcher at Uppsala University in Sweden, having previously worked as a Postdoctoral researcher at Durham University and a PhD researcher at Edinburgh University (UK).
Money makes the world go round, but can it stop the world from overheating? Despite growing calls to make financial flows consistent with Paris Agreement goals, little remains known about the impact of ‘green’ forms of finance. By analysing how resources are assembled for green investment, this talk will demonstrate how we can begin to understand why green finance pools in some places, but not in others, and the implications for climate change mitigation efforts. Using the example of the agricultural sector, I will show that flows of green finance don’t pool in places where they can have the most significant climate impact, but rather in places where they remain distant from nature’s unruly qualities. In doing so, this talk sets out how assemblage thinking can provide a nuanced critique of the idea that we can ‘green’ finance.
Evaluating Timberland as a “Socially Responsible” Pension Fund Investment
Speaker: Kelly Kay, University of California, USA
Kelly Kay is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Geography at the University of California – Los Angeles. Kelly is a political ecologist and economic geographer, and her recent work is concerned with the financialization and vertical “dis-integration” of industrial timberland across the rural United States.
Across the US and Europe, timberland is being touted as a “green” option for pension funds who increasingly face the demand from their members to offer socially-responsible investment opportunities. This presentation draws on interviews with foresters and timber economists and participant observation at two years of timberland investment conferences to argue (1) that only certain forested geographies are investable for entities like pension funds, and (2) that the socially-responsible nature of these investments is questionable, due to prevailing norms around labor practices, forest conversion, and land management. While much has been written about the financial geographies of farmland investment, this presentation advances our understanding of the “financialization of nature” by highlighting how a parallel process in timberland has distinctive geographies, time horizons, and ecological and social outcomes.