The pace of governed energy transitions: Agency, international dynamics and the global Paris agreement accelerating decarbonisation processes

Journal Article

The recent debate on the temporal dynamics of energy transitions is crucial since one of the main reasons for embarking on transitions away from fossil fuels is tackling climate change. Long-drawn out transitions, taking decades or even centuries as we have seen historically, are unlikely to help achieve climate change mitigation targets. Therefore, the pace of energy transitions and whether they can be sped up is a key academic and policy question. Our argument is that while history is important in order to understand the dynamics of transitions, the pace of historic transitions is only partly a good guide to the future. We agree with Sovacool’s [1] argument that quicker transitions have happened in the past and may therefore also be possible in the future globally. The key reason for our optimism is that historic energy transitions have not been consciously governed, whereas today a wide variety of actors is engaged in active attempts to govern the transition towards low carbon energy systems. In addition, international innovation dynamics can work in favour of speeding up the global low-carbon transition. Finally, the 2015 Paris agreement demonstrates a global commitment to move towards a low carbon economy for the first time, thereby signalling the required political will to foster quick transitions and to overcome resistance, such as from incumbents with sunk infrastructure investments.

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