Date and time
Convenors: Will Eadson (Sheffield Hallam University), Laura Norris (Cardiff University) and Camilla Chlebna (University of Oldenburg)
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 2021 – April 2022.
28th October 2021 – Municipal Action for Sustainability
Remunicipalisation, the ‘Return of the State’ and the Crumbling Carapace of Neoliberalism
The first two decades of the twenty first century have witnessed a remarkable process of global de-privatisation. In a trend largely and wilfully ignored by political and economic elites, this reflects a marked reversal of the previous tendency towards the wholesale selling off or subcontracting out of essential services – including energy, water and transport – to the private sector. The local and regional scales have dominated de-privatisation, representing the vast majority of cases, in a phenomenon referred to as remunicipalisation. I argue here that remunicipalisation is linked to broader and deeper currents in multi-scalar processes of economic governance; namely the purported ‘return of the state’ and a faltering project of neoliberalism. Drawing upon insights from a project in which we have carried out a global mapping of remunicipalisation cases, I reflect upon its significance as part of a changing terrain of multi-scalar economic governance. This involves highlighting the increasingly evident contradictions in the competition and marketisation rhetorics of neoliberalism in creating sustainable forms of social and ecological development. Although the shell or carapace of neoliberalism is crumbling, there are continued tensions between a growth-fuelled, and increasingly state-driven, capitalism and basic social and ecological needs which remunicipalisation, in its spatially diverse ways, brings to the fore.
Governing Low Carbon and Just Transitions: A Case Study of Nottingham
The UK has committed to becoming net-zero by 2045 and in turn, over 300 UK local authorities have declared a Climate Emergency. One notable example is Nottingham, a mid-size city located in the East Midlands, which has made commitments to becoming the first UK carbon neutral city by 2028. Not only is this target ambitious and commendable, it is also distinctive from other cities nationally in terms of climate goals and from having an integrated approach across city sectors, such as housing, transport and energy. My research is concerned with how urban actors deliver net-zero commitments ‘in practice’. Using the Nottingham example, I examine the key governing actors engaging with low carbon transitions in practice, and in turn reflect on their political capacity and agency on a local level to stimulate change. I consider the multi-scalar barriers that are experienced when implementing urban transitions in practice, particularly challenges arising from the national level and local level. Finally, using a cross-sectoral approach, I identify initiatives and schemes which have been delivered on-the-ground. In doing so, I explore how path creation and municipal ownership have a significant role in the implementation of decarbonised and inclusive trajectories in Nottingham, specifically through the provision of low carbon and affordable energy and transport.
Andrew Cumbers, University of Glasgow, UK
Andrew Cumbers is an academic and political activist. Trained initially as an economic
geographer, he is currently Professor of Political Economy at the University of Glasgow and Editor in Chief of the journal Urban Studies. He holds a European Research Council Advanced Grant: ‘Global Remunicipalisation and the Post-Neoliberal Turn’. His current research focuses upon the role of economic democracy and public participation in creating more equitable and sustainable forms of development. Outside of academia, he has been writing and advocating for democratic forms of public ownership for almost three decades. He was heavily involved in co-producing the UK Labour Party’s proposals for public ownership between 2016-19. He is currently working with the Amsterdam based Transnational Institute and the global trade union federation, Public Services International, to research and advocate for democratic local publicly owned services. He is the author of Reclaiming Public Ownership: Making Space for Economic Democracy (Zed) and more recently The Case for Economic Democracy (Polity).
Katherine Sugar, University of Edinburgh, UK
Dr Katherine Sugar is an Early Career Researcher and has recently completed a PhD at the University of Glasgow, which investigated urban governance for low carbon and inclusive transitions. With a background in geography and ecological economics, she is concerned with multi-level governance of low carbon and equitable transitions, with a particular interest in the different actors involved, the implementation of projects in practice, and challenges encountered and overcome. She is currently working at the University of Edinburgh as a Research Fellow for Energy Efficient Scotland, which includes the social evaluation of recent local authority-led energy efficiency pilot projects in Scotland.
Chair: Camilla Chlebna, Carl von Ossietzky University Oldenburg, Germany
Camilla is a postdoctoral researcher in the working group for Organisation and Innovation within the Institute for Social Sciences at the University of Oldenburg. She is an interdisciplinary researcher cutting across the fields of economic geography, innovation studies, and transition studies with a particular interest for the role and destiny of regions in transition processes towards sustainable development. Since 2018 she participates in the REENEA project on regional energy transitions in German regions. Camilla holds a PhD in Economic Geography and an MSc in Spatial Planning from Oxford Brookes University in the UK and studied Regional Planning and Development at the University of Technology in Vienna, Austria.
This webinar series is free and open to all, but registration is required.
- 12.30 BST
- 13.30 CEST
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.
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.
Speaker: Stephen Axon, Southern Connecticut State University, USA
Dr. Stephen Axon is an Assistant Professor of Sustainability Science in the Department of the Environment, Geography and Marine Sciences at Southern Connecticut State University. His research and teaching focuses on the principles, policies, and practices of sustainability; informed by ‘what works’ approaches that are inclusive, equitable, and participatory. At SCSU, his courses focus on the conceptual, practical, and applied dimensions of sustainability. He is currently leading, and working on, the “ESCAPE: Equity, Sustainability, Climate Action, and Public Engagement” and “Post-Pandemic Sustainable Futures” research projects. He is also the co‐director of the Connecticut State University System Center for Environmental Literacy and Sustainability Education (CELSE), and welcomes academic collaborators looking to engage in sustainability-related research as well as graduate students looking to pursue research in this field.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to the fore numerous social inequities and vulnerabilities with current systems unable to adequately improve the resilience of those disproportionately affected by disruptive changes. Despite this, the pandemic represents a window of opportunity to address the inadequacies of system responses to ensure that resiliency can be improved. By rejecting a return to ‘normal’, the disruptive change caused by the pandemic presents a series of ‘entry points’ for policies and interventions to be implemented as part of a sustainable transformation. The STEP:AHEAD (Sustainable Transformation Entry Points: Addressing Hurdles in Environmental Action and Degrowth) project is investigating how the nature of the pandemic and the multitude of responses to it, may shape actions to address widespread systemic unsustainabilities. This presentation outlines the ways in which the COVID-19 pandemic can be seen as an opportunity, despite its continued negative impacts, to facilitate change that minimises social inequities and vulnerabilities while maximising resilience in key sectors of the economy e.g. energy generation, transport, and supply chains. The (very) initial findings of a policy analysis of the transport, supply chain, and energy generation industries in the United States are presented with implications outlined for a post-pandemic sustainable future.
Dr Mari Martiskainen is a Senior Research Fellow at Sussex Energy Group (SEG), Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU) at the University of Sussex, UK. She is also the Theme lead for Equity and Justice at UK-wide Centre for Research into Energy Demand Solutions (CREDS). Mari is a social scientist with a specific interest in sustainability transitions, especially in relation to a just transition to a net zero society. Her current research focuses on the interlinkages between fuel and transport poverty, while in the past she was worked for example on energy justice implications on low carbon pathways; social innovation in addressing fuel poverty; and the role of various users in low-carbon transitions. Mari has published widely in academic journals such as Climatic Change, Energy Policy, Energy Research and Social Science, Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions, Environment and Planning A, Global Environmental Change, Technology Analysis and Strategic Management and Research Policy.
University of Sussex profile: https://profiles.sussex.ac.uk/p197918-mari-martiskainen
Google Scholar: https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=zRm3xbQAAAAJ&hl=en&oi=ao
We need to urgently address climate change and undertake an extensive and rapid decarbonization of both energy and transport systems. At the same time, it is widely acknowledged that such a transition should be ‘just’ and avoid worsening inequalities. This raises questions such as: Who may be especially vulnerable in low-carbon transitions? How can we ensure that low-carbon transitions do not worsen inequalities? Building on work within the FAIR project and INNOPATHS project, this presentation looks at the challenges linked to ensuring just low-carbon transitions, and what we need to consider in order to ensure that such transitions are beneficial to everyone in society.
Build Back Better? Post-Covid recovery, green entrepreneurs and sustainability transitions
Covid-19 has both had major economic impacts and created conditions for reflection on how post-Covid recovery pathways might offer low carbon futures. For example, there has been speculation that many of the changes associated with lockdowns such as reduced commuting, increased working from home and local food sourcing may continue post-Covid. However, whilst it has been suggested that there is potential to forge more sustainable pathways, conversely there may be further entrenchment of conservative, neoliberal policies promoting an approach to economic growth that reverts to consumption-led growth and growing greenhouse gas emissions. Indeed, we may be in a similar position to the period of the 2008 financial crash where calls for green growth as a new paradigm were largely abandoned or led to minimal green outcomes. In this seminar we explore the potential for new, ‘greener’ forms of economic development from the perspective of green entrepreneurs and their potential role in any sustainability transition. At the same time, we position their role in the broader institutional context of national and sub-national policy, using the UK as an example.
David Gibbs, University of Hull, UK
David Gibbs is Emeritus Professor of Human Geography in the Department of Geography, Geology and Environment at the University of Hull. His main research interests are in local and regional economic development, with a particular focus on economy-environment interactions. Recent work into green transitions regions was funded by a Regional Studies Association Fellowship research grant.
Kirstie O’Neill, Cardiff University, UK
Kirstie O’Neill is a lecturer in Environmental Geography in the School of Geography and Planning at Cardiff University. She is a critical human geographer with research interests in the green economy and environmental governance. Recent work has explored universities’ climate emergency declarations as a new round of environmental governance.
Patterns of Leadership for Green Growth
Governments at all levels have increasingly been adopting the concept of ‘green growth’ to inform their efforts to boost economic development and confront sustainability issues. The basic arguments that guide narratives and policy initiatives revolving around green growth are more focused on economic opportunities than on environmental challenges, though they aim to find a balance between the two.
We add to the literature on green growth by explicitly focusing on the ways the many networks shaping evolutionary patterns are lead. We highlight the need to understand better the patterns of place leadership. We define place leadership as the mobilization and coordination of diverse groups of actors to achieve a collective effort aimed at enhancing green growth in a specific place. It works across institutional, organizational, geographical and/or sectoral boundaries to amplify the local power base in order to strengthen the capacity to influence placeless leaders, ie. those with great powers.
We follow those who differentiate transformational leadership from transactional leadership by stating that the latter is more about executing goals and fine-tuning networks and organisational behaviour. It focuses on routines and the predictable. By contrast, transformational leadership is more concerned with influence, the search for novel purposes and boosting institutional changes. Transformational leadership is concerned with the novel and the unpredictable, while transactional leadership seeks to achieve the visible and predictable. Drawing on our empirical observations, we argue that place leadership, in the context of green growth, takes generative modes of action to produce indirectly transformational effects.
In this paper, first, we argue for the need to focus on agency, intentions and interests in studies focusing on regional green growth. Second, to frame the discussion, we discuss the basic tenets of transformational, transactional and generative leadership, and identify their differences and similarities conceptually. Third, using our empirical observations in the Nordic countries, we explore the similarities and differences between the patterns of place leadership in different types of regions.
Markku Sotarauta, Tampere University, Finland
Markku Sotarauta is professor of regional development studies in Faculty of Management and Business at Tampere University, Finland. In 2011-2013, he served as the founding Dean of the School of Management and, in 2009-2010, as the last Dean of the Faculty of Economics and Administration. Prof. Sotarauta specialises in leadership, institutional entrepreneurship and innovation systems in city and regional development. He has published widely on these issues in international journals and edited books. His latest publications ’Handbook on City and Regional Leadership’, edited with Professor Andrew Beer and published by Edwar Elgard Publishing. Prof. Sotarauta has worked with the Finnish Parliament, Swedish Innovation Agency (Vinnova), many Finnish ministries as well as cities and regions both in Finland and in other countries. Prof. Sotarauta serves OP Financial Group as the Vice-Chairman of the Supervisory Council, and Tampere District Co-operative Bank (OP Tampere) as the Chairman of Board of Directors.
Nina Suvinen, Tampere University, Finland
Nina Suvinen has had the researcher position at Tampere University since 2005, currently in the Faculty of Management and Business. She has also a few years’ experience of regional level development tasks. Having the degree in Sociology her research interests have been intertwined with territorial innovativeness and evolution including innovation systems, networks, intermediary organisations, emergence of new high-technology industries, and lately green transition of industries and regions.