The nature of transitions: Implications for the transition to a low carbon economy


This working paper is the second in a set of three working papers exploring the meaning of a ´just transition´ to a low carbon economy. Here an overview of theoretical approaches relevant to transitions is presented. Through the mapping of key interdisciplinary approaches on the topic, the paper aims to assist the management of transition processes, the assessment of its outcomes, as well as deliberative decision-making regarding the future of on-going transitions.

Seven bodies of academic literature are briefly reviewed. These are (i) the techno-economic approach; (ii) the socio-ecological transitions approach; (iii) the technological innovation systems approach; (iv) the multilevel perspective, which encompasses three approaches, namely strategic niche management, transition management, and reflexive governance; (v) the social practices approach; (vi) the resilience approach; (vii) and a human geography perspective, which explicitly considers aspects of social and environmental justice across space and time. Each can be critiqued for what it fails to incorporate, but the academic literature provides researchers, business leaders and policymakers with a range of often complementary lenses with which to assess current transitions and alternative futures. Considering this issue from a variety of perspectives may help to identify dimensions of the problem that may eventually be neglected or less scrutinised.

The paper concludes with an attempt to distil key messages from each strand of academic literature in a way that may provide business executives and policy leaders with new lines of enquiry and analysis when assessing current transition efforts and alternative paths, especially those that may lead us towards a more just transition to low carbon development.