Governing Transformation towards Low-carbon Societies: An ideational perspective from developing countries

Maryna Henrysson

    Research output: Book/ReportPh.D. thesis

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    Securing a low-carbon future will require a multitude of ‘low-carbon transformations’. The issues are how such transformations are imagined and framed, along which pathways and who steers them, including the very basic question of what decisions are made to transform the present challenges to climate change governance. Understanding of the politics of these governance challenges is important in explaining which pathways are supported or delegitimised and which are ignored and fail to get off the ground. This dissertation focuses on the role of institutions and ideas in the multilevel, multi-actor and multi-factor governance of climate-compatible development. It aims to improve our understanding of potential endogenous sources of transformation by asking how ideas of sustainability influence the governance of a low-carbon society. It investigates the construction of policy problems, the content of policy proposals and the political agenda of present policies and reform imperatives around climate change mitigation and lowcarbon development. The question is addressed using a combination of perspectives, including governance theory and the constructivist institutional
    Empirically, this dissertation is based on four separate case studies presented in individual articles. The study of voluntary carbon market mitigation projects in the Sub-Saharan region maps out the market actors and their conceptualisations of sustainability to highlight the ideas behind marketbased solutions to climate change mitigation. In examining national climate change mitigation and green growth strategies in Vietnam, it was demonstrated how the current institutional context relates to the background to long-term transformation and programmatic ideas about how to achieve it. In the study of baseline setting in developing Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs) in the building sector in Vietnam, the role of international knowledge practices in national policy-making was questioned. Finally, the examination of electricity infrastructure development showed how reforms to low-carbon energy systems are justified in two different sociotechnological settings: Mexico and Vietnam.

    On the one hand, the findings indicated that over time, by invoking and appealing to arguments associated with the ideas and principles of ix neoliberalism climate change mitigation and low-carbon development, agendas have become more acceptable in the formation of sectoral policies. On the other hand, the analysis shows how policy experts and technocrats use their epistemic power and ideational abilities to limit the scope of debate, thus constraining the range of policy responses. When there are no fundamental transformational shifts in the background and in programmatic ideas about development, the actors that frame the institutional context within a prevailing framework further legitimise conservative ideas about climate governance. For instance, solutions normalising the temporal necessity of fossil fuels in electricity generation while justifying economic growth by means of green growth arguments become more deeply embedded in development trajectories. Narrow conceptualisations of policy problems and solutions in the cases presented here have resulted in incumbent actors resorting to quite conventional instruments of technological market-based fixes in the absence of alternative and/or more transformational visions of development.

    Overall, this dissertation contributes to on-going debates over domestic politics and policy-making regarding ‘green transformations’ and adds to the emerging policy field in developing countries contexts. It argues that there is a
    need to stimulate critical reflection on the existing assumptions regarding mitigation actions. It argues that governance choices, for example, in electricity infrastructure development or energy efficiency in buildings, or a broader range of mitigation actions, are not only defined by technological lockins. Equally important is the persistence of ideas that are used to justify and legitimise reforms by mobilising discourses on energy supply and security and framing energy transitions as part of wider goals to maintain socio-economic stability and pursue green growth development strategies. This dissertation shows that low-carbon development should not only be technically, institutionally and economically feasible, but also politically and ideationally feasible, to translate into action. Measures for institutionalising long-term transformation are unlikely to be effective if ideas about transformation cannot be developed within the parameters set by governance regimes.

    The key argument of this dissertation is that, for the governance of low-carbon societies, it is crucial to recognise that climate change mitigation actions are more than economic or technological challenges – they are politically charged.
    Paying attention to problem framings and to the diversity of multi-actor perspectives could facilitate novel responses to climate change and enable more inclusive forms of governance, as well as throwing light on the x fundamental incompatibility between and limited reach of generalised policy solutions and technological fixes.
    Original languageEnglish
    PublisherUNEP DTU Partnership
    Number of pages127
    Publication statusPublished - 2017


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