Who are the victims of low-carbon transitions? Towards a political ecology of climate change mitigation

Energy Research & Social Science 73


[Note: Password to access the pre-print of the publication: Coaltransitions]

This study critically examines 20 years of geography and political ecology literature on the energy justice implications of climate change mitigation. Grounded in an expert guided literature review of 198 studies and their corresponding 332 case studies, it assesses the linkages between low carbon transitions—including renewable electricity, biofuel, nuclear power, smart grids, electric vehicles, and land use management—with degradation, dispossession and destruction. It draws on a framework that envisions the political ecology of low-carbon transitions as consisting of four distinct processes: enclosure (capture of land or resources), exclusion (unfair planning), encroachment (destruction of the environment), or entrenchment (worsening of inequality or vulnerability). The study vigorously interrogates how these elements play out by country and across countries, by type of mitigation option, by type of victim or affected group, by process, and by severity, e.g. from modern slavery to organized crime, from violence, murder and torture to the exacerbation of child prostitution or the destruction of pristine ecosystems. It also closely examines the locations, disciplinary affiliations, methods and spatial units of analysis employed by this corpus of research, with clear and compelling insights for future work in the space of geography, climate change, and energy transitions. It suggest five critical avenues for future research: greater inclusivity and diversity, rigor and comparative analysis, focus on mundane technologies and non-Western case studies, multi-scalar analysis, and focus on policy and recommendations. At times, low-carbon transitions and climate action can promote squalor over sustainability and leave angry communities, disgruntled workers, scorned business partners, and degraded landscapes in their wake. Nevertheless, ample opportunities exist to make a future low-carbon world more pluralistic, democratic, and just.


  • Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU), School of Business, Management, and Economics, University of Sussex, United Kingdom

  • Center for Energy Technologies, Department of Business Development and Technology, Aarhus University, Denmark