Working Paper: Understanding the Politics of Low Carbon Transition

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Working Paper: Understanding the Politics of Low Carbon Transition

Understanding the Politics of Low Carbon Transition: Context, Paradigms and Power

EPG Working Paper: 1301

By: Dr Caroline Kuzemko, Energy Policy Group, University of Exeter


Given the scale of challenge that climate change presents to society and the urgency implied by limited time frames a growing body of academic work is attempting to conceptualise complex socio-technical transitions, such as in energy systems, and how they take place.  Much can be learnt from this literature about processes of transition, not least that they are underpinned by multiple interconnections that take place in a range of different areas.  This literature also suggests that although radical changes in complex energy systems have historically taken place this low carbon transition is different – not least in that it is in part politically instigated. As part of governing successfully for transition, therefore, much of this literature concludes that political institutions need to become more directly involved in supporting the niche technology markets that have historically been fundamental to innovation and change.  The socio-technical transitions literature has, however, tended not to explore or conceptualise the politics of transition in any great depth.  Politics is often taken to be neutral or is reified and policies are assessed and recommended without analysis of whether these will work in specific contexts.  Using new institutionalist concepts, such as policy paradigm theory and depoliticisation, this paper is one contribution towards filling this gap.  It will explain why certain political institutions persist within given contexts – even in the face of climate change objectives – whilst also conceptualising possibilities for the type of political change envisaged by so many in this area of research.

Keywords: energy; transition; climate change; institutions; politics

Contact: Dr Caroline Kuzemko,

Date: January 2013

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