Urban Low Carbon Transitions: A Comparative International Network - Australia, China, India, South Africa, US and UK

Lead Research Organisation: Durham University
Department Name: Geography


International research suggests that in response to climate change global cities are now engaging in strategic efforts to effect a low carbon transition. That is, to enhance resilience and secure resources in the face of the impacts of climate change, resource constraints and in relation to new government and market pressures for carbon control. But significant questions remain unexplored. First, limited research has been undertaken internationally to comparatively examine how different cities in the north and south are responding to the challenges of climate change. Second, it is not clear whether the strategic intent of low carbon transitions can be realised in different urban contexts.

Consequently, we propose to establish an international network, to be undertaken between leading scholars on urban climate change responses as an important step towards addressing these deficits. The network will focus on the research and policy issues involved in comparing and researching the broader dynamics and implications of low carbon urbanism. This network includes Australia, China, India, South Africa and the US and builds on existing scholars and research teams with whom we currently have bilateral and ad hoc collaborations. Our proposed collaboration is designed to create greater density of network connections and enhancing the depth of each connection by three sets of initiatives:

1. International Networking Opportunities: The first element of the ESRC initiative will be to support significant international research opportunities for UK researchers. We will undertake programmed and structure visits to each national context to: increase knowledge of one another's research and plans; to gain intelligence about the research landscape in the partner countries in this field in order to build up a global picture of research expertise; to exchange ideas about possible future collaborative research projects; and to build personal relationships that are at the heart of successful long-distance research partnerships.

2. International Comparative Collaboration: The second element of the network is to facilitate interaction between the partners in the research network and with a wider group of UK and international researchers through two connected forum that will meet four times. A. International Research Workshops (Network partners plus other relevant UK and international researchers). These meetings will focus primarily on enhancing comparison and collaboration with a wider group of researchers but will also serve as an important opportunity for developing publications in the form of special issues and edited collections. B. Network Partners Research Forum (Network partners only). The network will also sponsor a number of much smaller research forums, focused on the network partners. These workshops will enable a structured and protected space for the partners to share the findings from their ongoing work, and to explore and examine the implications of the issues and themes emerging from the larger workshops in this context.

3. International Network Infrastructure: The third element will focus on establishing the necessary infrastructure for promoting effective international research collaboration. The network will pursue two projects. A. Information Infrastructure: Durham will establish a website that facilitates collaboration among international partners. All partner researchers and institutions will have the opportunity to present and regularly update information about their ongoing research. The website will also serve as a base for communicating about events, visits, awards, etc. The website will also host audio and video recordings of workshops. B. International Network Coordinator: Additionally Durham will support a 20% network coordinator to manage and organize the visits, workshops, teleconferences and the website.

Planned Impact

The likely beneficiaries of the proposed research include government, private sector, research funders and civil society organisations. At the international level, the work will be of relevance to several international organisations with whom the project team have established links, including the urban climate change teams at the World Bank, UNEP, UNDP , UN-Habitat, and ICLEI (based in Bonn), as well as to the C40 and The Climate Group. The research will also be of interest to local and national governments in the participating countries, as well as to the UK government, who have a specific mission to further international responses to climate change. We will work with our network partners to ensure that we build upon their own existing relationships with their relevant urban and national governments through which to communicate our findings. Through the Durham Energy Institute, we have established a close link with the Department for Energy and Climate Change and will ensure that we communicate our findings through this means.

In terms of private sector organisations, likely beneficiaries include national and transnational corporations active in the industrial production, infrastructure, development, property and energy sectors as well as firms who are seeking to develop low carbon technologies, processes and practices within the urban contexts. We will use our existing relations with ICLEI who are a key knowledge exchange intermediary to extend the communication of findings to these users through the life of the project.

Over the medium-long term, we expect that the project will be able to deliver the following two principle benefits to these different parties:

(1) Enhanced capacity to address the challenges of the urban low carbon transitions by: (a) increasing knowledge about the dynamics of low carbon transitions in each of the partners contexts and of the opportunities and barriers that are being encountered in these processes; (b) providing new understanding of the types of intermediation, knowledge and learning that are required in order to sustain systemic responses to the challenges of climate change; and (c) developing a systematic assessment of the benefits and limitations of specific low carbon transitions and lessons which can be learnt for the development of low carbon transitions in the future.
(2) Contributing to effective policy and investment decisions for the future development of low carbon cities. Findings will provide an indication of the generic pressures and opportunities that are emerging in different cities as they seek to enact a low carbon transition. Our analysis will be able to inform government, private sector and civil society organizations as to the extent to which systemic transitions are emerging or whether the potential of low carbon transitions to address vulnerabilities and rising levels of greenhouse gas emissions is being squandered through the adoption of a piecemeal, fragmented approach. It will pinpoint different sectoral and geographical barriers to addressing climate change and provide a basis upon which to develop new forms of policy intervention to further the ambitions of a low carbon transition. This will be of particular relevance to organizations working in each international context, but will also be important to the UK government in furthering its key priority of addressing rising global emissions by providing an assessment of the potential for low carbon urban development.


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Andres Luque- Ayala (2017) Rethinking urban Low Carbon Transitions

Description The network has developed a broader analytical framework that proposes a novel interpretation of low carbon transitions as primarily social, political and developmental processes. This suggests that low carbon transitions go beyond simple municipal efforts aimed at measuring and mitigating greenhouse gases, reinterpreting the low carbon transition as a matter of development modes. This framework examines the multiple competing ways of designing and practicing low carbon urbanism, and asks what does it mean to be low carbon, what and who is involved in the transition, how is this transition likely to unfold and how would we recognize a transition when we see it.
Exploitation Route This may be of interest to urban policy networks concerned with the development of responses and capacity to support the transition to low carbon urbanism.
Sectors Energy,Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice,Other

URL http://community.dur.ac.uk/incut/
Description The work of the network has set out different pathways for the city to become low carbon, decentring the central tenet of lowering GHG emissions and foregrounding ways of thinking about development and collective futures. The key contribution has been to show that the low carbon transition is not a singular problem, but rather a problem full of multiplicities, meanings and potential responses. As we have seen in over two decades of action and research at the interface between cities and climate change, it is a problem that is continually in transformation, from one of environmental protection and decarbonization to one of green growth, economic resilience, development logics and more. There are three key implications shaping the debate about low carbon transitions. First, the need to consider urban sites in both the global North and South that are not considered climate exemplars. Here we might seek to reconsider the role of normal and ordinary cities and contexts that lack the capacity and resources to become active in low carbon transitions. In these cities, we may seek to look beyond the municipal level to consider a wider range of contexts and sites where a politics of low carbon transition could be developed. The network has shown how it is necessary to challenge the conceived and often repeated wisdom that urban responses can act on climate change -  when in fact the picture is much more varied and differentiated. Second, there is the issue of lock-in and obduracy. While on the one hand the network has illustrated the diversity of urban low carbon visions, there is a tendency for responses to focus on a particular suite of technological (rather than social) solutions, to give primacy to business and elites (rather than civil society), and to work within existing social and economic constraints (rather than question or exceed them). The critical question is, then, can this constrained response be opened and problematized with the potential for new solutions? The third issue the network has consistently raised is the need to develop contexts, techniques and processes that can help to enlarge and open how we think about development, expanding the range of new imaginaries of what a low carbon future might look like. Our network has consistently grappled with the need to move beyond the status quo and business as usual, and all have argued in favour of a search for new visions and ideas that can populate what a post-capitalist, -development and -carbon society might look like. Much is at stake here. This would mean the research community engaging in new relationships and collaborations with civil society, grass-roots organizations, collectives, artists, writers, film-makers and a range of other creative spirits in the development of new methods and processes for envisioning and experimenting with different urban futures.
First Year Of Impact 2017
Sector Energy,Environment
Impact Types Societal,Policy & public services

Geographic Reach Multiple continents/international 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Impact Urban Low Carbon Transitions Framework The INCUT network reflected critically on a decades work undertaken by a wide range of scholars across disciplines and urban contexts in the north and south concerned with analysing and in some cases shaping urban transitions. Our collective analysis is designed to inform a wider research and policy debate about the potential and limits of low carbon urbanism. Advancing an understanding of low carbon urbanism requires a shift from an 'extractive' model of low carbon transitions, where the focus is in measuring and reducing emissions, to an 'embedded' model of decarbonisation based on systemic change. There are 3 key findings: 1. Urban Low Carbon as Development Mode: The framework proposes a novel interpretation of low carbon transitions as primarily social, political and developmental processes. This suggests that low carbon transitions go beyond simple municipal efforts aimed at measuring and mitigating greenhouse gases, reinterpreting the low carbon transition as a matter of development modes. The first generation of transition studies approached low carbon as a matter of techno-economic innovation, often paying limited attention to the materiality of the city and the socio-political nature of its infrastructural flows. This framework examines the multiple competing ways of designing and practicing low carbon urbanism, and asks what does it mean to be low carbon, what and who is involved in the transition, how is this transition likely to unfold and how would we recognize a transition when we see it. 2. Critical Role of Low Carbon Intermediaries: Governing low carbon in the city transcends the local arena, involving a broad range of agents beyond the municipality. Non-state actors from private and non-profit sectors are increasingly playing a greater role in shaping, configuring and contesting climate responses in the city. As multiple agents and organizations get involved in the development of capacity for low carbon, 'intermediation' plays a key role . The framework looks at the broad range of activities that make up low carbon Intermediation, such as management, finance provision, service delivery, consulting and knowledge generation, co-ordination, technology provision, advocacy, lobbying, awareness-raising, dissemination and others. Intermediaries, thus, play a role as brokers, connecting, translating, and facilitating flows of knowledge and other resources, whilst also articulating the options and demands of the different agents involved, supporting the alignment of visions, objectives and possibilities towards common goals . 3. New Forms of Low Carbon Citizenship: Imagining specific types of citizens, and through this endowing them with specific powers, is of relevance for the reconfiguration of the city within low carbon logics and forms of operation. The creation of citizens that are amenable to the low carbon objective is fundamental to this process. Similarly, collective processes of developing and enacting shared low carbon identities and initiatives bring about new openings for low carbon urbanism, highlighting the significant role of communities within the low carbon transition. The framework examines how different communities of practice transform meanings and forms of relating to the city and its infrastructures in order to reduce their emissions.
Description GUST Governance of Urban Sustainability Transitions
Amount £1,300,000 (GBP)
Funding ID ES/M008711/1 
Organisation Economic and Social Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2014 
End 10/2017
Title INCUT 
Description Urban Low Carbon Transitions: An Analytical Framework The framework is designed to both informing of, and is shaped by; colleagues collaborative work in the INCUT network. INCUT brings together scholars interested in theoretical and empirical studies of urban low carbon transitions in a wide range of different urban contexts in both the global south and north. This paper provides a conceptual lens through which we can begin to interrogate and compare urban low carbon transition dynamics in multiple contexts according to a clear analytical framework. It is not our intention that colleagues and policy makers should try to utilise the whole framework but parts of it should be helpful in informing the framing and development of their contributions to the project and book. Third, the framework is also designed to be informing of wider societal and policy debates about the potential and limits of low carbon urbanism. It is our intention in later iterations of the work to develop a more engaged and translational version of the framework with policy partners involved in the INCUT network to both reflect on critical lessons learnt from low carbon policy initiatives and experiments but also to be informing of the strategic direction of future policy responses. The rest of the paper is structured into a four-stage framework structured as follows (see figure 1). Section 2 focuses on designing low carbon urbanism and asks what does it mean to be low carbon? Section 3 centres on practicing low carbon urbanism and looks at what and who is involved in the transition. Section 3 concentrates on mobilizing low carbon urbanism and reviews how the transitions unfold. Section 4 provides an initial overview of transition pathways - and reviews multiple junctions towards the low carbon city focusing on how would we recognize a transition when we see it. Section 5, the conclusion, provides a synthesis of urban transitions 1 and 2. Figure 1: Urban Transition 2.0 - The four-fold framework 1. Designing low carbon urbanism The first step in the framework is concerned with the issue of societal development - and the crucial question what does it mean to be low carbon? Whilst acknowledging the multiplicity and contradiction embedded in current attempts to realize low carbon, we propose a way of analysing low carbon urbanism based on the development of novel ways of thinking about the low carbon and development interface. Decarbonisation is then not confined to setting targets to reduce emissions, but involves a host of more or less explicit ways in which carbon comes to be problematized and acted upon in relation to (in this case) the city, thus positioning low carbon as a (potentially) transformative process. The design of low carbon urbanism includes establishing shared understanding of challenges of low carbon in relation to particular urban contexts for intervention. These forms of understanding then powerfully shape the form of coalitions and selection of intermediary institutions, the identification of technological interventions to be trialled, and agreement on the governance principles to be followed. Figure 2: Designing Low Carbon Urbanism Figure 2 outlines the two main dimensions of urban low carbon design. The first is socio-technical configurations primarily focused on how the existing context shapes the spaces for innovation around low carbon urbanism. Here we sympathetically review the main contribution of innovation studies in urban transitions 1.0 and the gaps that need to be addressed in urban transitions 2.0. The second is ways of thinking about the relations between low carbon and urban development priorities and here we select three frameworks that enable us to reinsert multiple geographies and contextually embedded issues into urban transitions studies from disciplines outside of innovation studies. Understanding transitions is not so much about extracting lessons from a few ideal cases, but about embedding new rationalities and subjectivities. Abandoning an exclusive focus on GHG reduction and climate mitigation (and end-of-pipe approach), low carbon is repositioned as a development approach with transformative political and economic implications. Here we acknowledge how transitions are framed by political economic contexts, including issues of resource control and ecological security. In acknowledging the political aspects of low carbon transitions, we open up possibilities for the mobilization of low carbon towards a broad variety of social objectives, including carbon control, urban ecological security and issues of social justice and urban inequality. These we must reiterate are not an exhaustive list of issues but begin to provide frameworks through which we may conceptualise the embedding of low carbon urbanism within particular urban contexts. Environmental fix security and social justice. 2. Practicing low carbon urbanism Practicing low carbon urbanism involves asking what and who is involved in the transition? This means working with and upon three distinct sets of elements (see figure 3). First, the agents and subjectivities that operate as initiators and partners or act as subjects of intervention. Second, the objects and flows of the material world involved in the production of carbon. Finally, a set of mechanisms and techniques that operate as material, framing and discursive devices capable of influencing both agents and objects. Figure 3: Practicing Low Carbon Urbanism 2.1 Agents, intermediaries, networks and subjectivities Governing low carbon in the city transcends the local arena, involving a broad range of agents beyond the local state. On one hand, non-state actors from private and non-profit sectors are increasingly playing a greater role in shaping, configuring and contesting climate responses in the city. On the other, making low carbon in the city is a multi-scalar process, made of interactions between agents located at different scales, from the dwelling and the city to transnational and global arenas. Looking at climate change from the lens of these diverse scales challenges traditional understanding of environmental governance that assume that decisions are cascaded from international to national to local levels. As a result, the agents involved in making low carbon are broad and diverse. Different entities operate as initiators and partners, aiming to influence a set of agents. These can include government organizations at local, regional or national levels, as well as private sector organizations, non-profits or community groups, amongst others. They interact in a variety of modes of action including, forms of intermediation, the development of networks and the production of new subjectivities. 2.2 Objects and flows Practising low carbon unfolds through transformations of a series of objects and flows - these are the socio-material elements that are subject to the transition. A revised research framework for a low carbon urban transitions 2.0 needs to acknowledge the materiality of the city and the way in which physical infrastructures, flows, practices and built environments clearly structure how climate change as an urban problem is conceived and addressed. Networked Infrastructures-such as the energy, transport and communications networks-play a vital role in structuring urban transitions. They are both key catalysts for environmental problems and the critical means through which the governing of climate change takes place. Discourse analysis on its own fails to recognize how policy making is implemented in the context of existing material. Analyses of climate change that do not recognise the materiality of the city, very often associated to the policy implementation stages, fail to provide an accurate account of the scale and practical impact of the transition. 2.3 Mechanism and techniques By mechanisms and techniques we refer to a broad range of technologies, institutions, and instruments used in the making of low carbon. These are devices, tools, techniques, personnel, materials and apparatuses that enable the possibility to imagine and act upon the conduct of the people to be governed. Common techniques used in governing the environment are, for example: the production of reports and discourses on the global monitoring of resources the use of mapping and other representation techniques for the creation of environmental objects and the development of systems and indicators to define, classify and separate objects of environmental concern. In rolling out specific techniques for advancing a low carbon urbanism, thought takes material from, as charts, texts, graphs, measuring devices, audits, quality controls and other seemingly mundane devices of the everyday are enlisted in the governing effort . Techniques confirm expertise, define an intelligible field of action and roll out specific forms of intervention. 3. Mobilizing Low Carbon Urbanism Transitions are always unfolding and in the making. Critical to the shift here is to develop a more nuanced and enlarged understanding of the implications and societal consequences of low carbon urbanism. This needs to move away from the notion of successful or failed technological innovations in Urban Transitions 1.0 to a more processual and socially embedded understanding in Urban Transitions 2.0. Consequently, we examine three different process involved in mobilizing low carbon urbanism - see figure 4 - asking how does the transition unfold. These processes are the result of the constant iteration between designing and practising low carbon, and are seen as steps and moments within the attempt to mainstream a low carbon urbanism. As with other elements within this framework, mobilising low carbon is not about intervening in a single site or space, but require changes, transformations and actions across different scales and sites. The processes discussed in this section are experimentation, learning, and scaling up and each one of these connect to systemic change in different manners, and draws differently from their geographical and political contexts. Figure 4 Mobilizing low carbon urbanism 4. Urban Transition Pathways: multiple junctions towards the low carbon city The coming together of the design, practice and mobilization of low carbon suggests possible pathways through which a low carbon urbanism occurs. Such pathways are neither singular nor linear, but multiple and interconnected. They should not be seen exclusively as positive, progressive, or devoid of conflict. Pathways can also be sites of conflict, contestation or an expression of regressive rationalities. They are multiple junctions where different interests come together. The critical question then is how would we recognize an urban transition when we see it? This involves acknowledgment of different narratives within sustainability pathways, resulting from different actors and networks, framing systems dynamics, boundaries and goals operating in different ways. Similarly, seeing pathways as sites where a diversity of imagined urban futures coexist, pathways can be used to understand the emerging - and often contradictory - politics of low carbon systems and its alternative configurations. This is a further area in which the team needs to undertake further work on the emerging pathways of low carbon urbanism. The following are some suggested possible themes for work on pathways for low carbon urbanism in Urban Transitions 2.0: • Multiple transitions pathways: work analysing differently constituted transitions pathways developing an understanding of the interconnection between low carbon and wider logics such as ecological modernisation, ecological services, resilience and security, smart cities, community based approaches etc. • Competing transition pathways: unpacking the social interests developing and societal implications of competing transitions paths within urban contexts. • Developing collective subjectivities: understanding whether different communities of practice change meanings and forms of relating to the city and its infrastructures in order to reduce their emissions. 5. Conclusion We develop a framework for Urban Transitions 2.0 based on a sympathetic critique of the first wave of urban transition studies - as outlined in table 1. The most critical feature of this framework is fourfold. First, to shift away from emissions based focus and construct a more developmental understanding of the purposes of low carbon urbanism. Second, to shift the refocus from transition processes and manager to look more carefully at the agent, objectives and techniques of the practices of low carbon urbanism. Third, to move away from a narrow focus on successful or failed transitions to develop a more enlarged understanding of the implications of experimentation, learning and upscaling. Finally, to complete a shift away from the notion of single to multiple and contested transitions. These we argue are the main challenges for Urban Transitions 2.0. Table 1 Urban Transitions 1.0 and 2.0 Compared. UT 1.0 Low Carbon Urbanism UT 2.0 Extractive model - reducing emissions? Designing Embedded model of decarbonisaiton Transition processes and managers ? Practicing Agents, objects and techniques. Success/failed innovations Mobilizing Experimentation, learning and rescaling? Singular pathway to low carbon transition Pathways Multiple and contested developmental pathways 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2017 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact The framework has been developed through the interactions between the researchers and policy makers in the Network and then used to structure a book project. The framework - presented in the section above plus the diagrams could be represented as a policy document. 
URL http://community.dur.ac.uk/incut/
Description INCUT 
Organisation Indian Institute for Human Settlements
Country India 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Organising workshops, meetings and book project, undertaking visits and interviews.
Collaborator Contribution Attendance at conferences and workshops, contributing to the development of the framework, organising access to policy makers and researchers, contributing to book.
Impact Book project and low carbon framework.
Start Year 2015