Legitimacy and accountability in the governance of sustainable energy transitions
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Original versionGlobal Transitions. 2020, 2, 47-50. 10.1016/j.glt.2020.02.001
How can we enable equitable decarbonisation? There is a wide gap between power to make transformative decisions, on the one hand, and agency on the part of those affected by climate change, on the other. We converge scholarly strands to understand and address the causes for insufficient action towards equitable decarbonisation – the crisis of accountability – despite global recognition of the urgent need for such action. Just as we study the socio-materiality of energy systems to understand the ephemeral flows of energy, we must also unpick the making of socio-political arrangements to comprehend what practices determine the elusive governance of energy transitions. To unite the twin concerns of energy and accountability, we probe the relationship between accountability and legitimacy on the one hand, and the governance of sustainable energy transitions on the other. This synthesis offers three key insights. First, accountability and legitimacy are deeply conflictual issues where various actors negotiate and struggle for control in energy transitions. Second, the negotiations around accountability and legitimacy have outcomes that are often inequitable. Third, it is crucial that reforms and policies that aim to stimulate sustainable energy transitions address power imbalances as well as carbon emissions. Overall, building equity into processes of systemic change requires instituting strong mechanisms that generate public benefits while legitimating new socio-material infrastructure and practices.