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In this Element, the authors develop an account of the role of behaviour change that is more political and social by bringing questions of power and social justice to the heart of their enquiry in order to appreciate how questions of responsibility and agency are unevenly distributed within and between societies. The result is a more holistic understanding of behaviour, as just one node within an ecosystem of transformation that bridges the individual and systemic. Their account is more attentive to questions of governance and the processes of collective steering necessary to facilitate large scale change across a diversity of actors, sectors and regions than the dominant emphasis on individuals and households. It is also more historical in its approach, looking critically at the relevance of historical parallels regarding large-scale behaviour change and what might be learned and applied to the contemporary context action.
Having laid out the critical importance of finance to energy transitions, this chapter briefly explores the historical role of finance capital in fuelling energy booms and the growth of the fossil fuel economy, before looking at slow shifts in strategy towards a more de-stabilising role in the face of concerns about un-burnable carbon, fears about the risk of stranded assets, as well as the potential returns to be made from expanding investments in renewable energy. In the section on the political economy of finance, however, this more optimistic reading of the role of finance is nuanced by looking at the practices of finance. Finally, in the section on ecologies of finance, the chapter looks at the circulation and interconnectedness of different forms of finance, in which, despite the fetishisation of private finance, public finance still has a vital role to play in the form of aid, multilateral development bank lending and procurement. It also explores the under-acknowledged challenge for finance of energy systems which will have to restrict supply and demand if they are to be compatible with a sustainable climate future.
After setting out the centrality of governance to understanding and engaging with energy transitions, I show how ideologies and strategies of governance have been shaped by broader shifts in capitalism around neo-liberalism regarding the role of the state and the re-scaling of the global economy through processes of globalisation. I show how at every level from local, city, national, to regional and global governance, political systems reflect and are imbued with the structural and material power of incumbent energy providers and interests, reinforced by institutional power through high levels of access and representation in the key discussion and decision-making centres to frame their needs as congruent with those of the state and their energy pathways as the most viable for tackling the energy trilemma of energy poverty, security and sustainability. I describe an energy governance complex: a web of distributed (but unevenly concentrated) power and agency over different parts of the energy system and its multi-functionality. Ecologising governance draws attention not only to its interconnections and interdependencies but also to its ecological blindness.
This chapter first lays out some context about the significance of this aspect of transition. Second, it historicises the discussion, in this case around histories of energy production, particularly from the industrial revolution onwards. Third, it explores the political economies of energy production, looking at the shifting role of the state in the energy sector, the rise of power sector reform and the privatisation of the electricity sector in many countries of the world. Fourth, it looks at the ecologies of energy production, both as metaphor for interconnected global production networks that characterise the production of key energy technologies and in relation to assessing the life cycle of energy production and the patterns of ecologically uneven exchange of which they are often part.
The concluding chapter brings together key insights from each of the preceding chapters, reflecting on the analytical added value that a global political economy perspective has provided with regard to an understanding of energy transitions. The last part of the chapter speculates on possible pathways to change in light of the preceding analysis, concluding with the need to bring about shifts in power (given the title of the book) – not just transitions in technology, finance and production – and institutional reforms, however these might be shaped.
This chapter lays down the theoretical foundations of the book. It reviews broader literatures on energy in general across the social sciences, before focusing in on debates about sociotechnical transitions. It draws out key insights from that body of work and provides a critique of some of its limitations. It then lays out the basis of a global political economy account that emphasises the global politics of transition, its historical dimensions and key political economy dimensions around shifting power relations and is attentive to the ecologies of transition.
In this chapter, I explore the destabilising role of social mobilisation and cultural shifts, in creating ruptures and generating demands for alternative energy systems and in actually doing the work of transition and wider transformative change by building alternative pathways. I briefly trace early struggles over energy systems from the London smogs and creation of the UK Factories Act during the industrial revolution, through the long histories of indigenous forms of activism against extractivism, to contemporary battles for energy and climate justice, and resistance to new infrastructures, projects and policies that further embed rather than disrupt the fossil fuel economy. I point to how mobilisations have sought to challenge existing political economies and distributions of power, as well as to construct alternative ones. I explore the interrelationships between strategies then describe the rich ecology of resistance, including lobbying, litigation and direct action, pressuring all parts of systems of production, finance and governance, as well as seeding alternatives for incumbent actors to crush or ignore, co-opt or replicate and learn from, or even support and scale up.
This chapter summarises the aims and objectives of the book. It contextualises debates about energy transitions: why they are important and what is at stake. It accounts for the multiple drivers of energy transitions and explains what makes energy so ripe for an analysis grounded in global political economy. It sets out the structure of the book and summarises the main arguments that are made in the book.
Energy transitions are fundamental to achieving a zero-carbon economy. This book explains the urgently needed transition in energy systems from the perspective of the global political economy. It develops an historical, global, political and ecological account of key features of energy transitions: from their production and financing, to how they are governed and mobilised. Informed by direct engagement in projects of energy transition, the book provides an accessible account of the real-world dilemmas in accelerating transitions to a low carbon economy. As well as changes to technology, markets, institutions and behaviours, Power Shift shows that shifts in power relations between and within countries, and across social groups and political actors, are required if the world is to move onto a more sustainable path. Using contemporary and historical case studies to explore energy transitions, it will be of interest to students and researchers across disciplines, policymakers and activists.