Imagining the future to unmake the present: governing a just transition

Energy systems are at the heart of initiatives to tackle climate change in research, policy and practice. In recent years, notions of energy democracy, just transitions,and a Green New Deal have emerged as loci of hope in the debate on climate change, indicative of a future where society has tackled both climate change and socio-economic inequalities.To date, those employing these concepts have prioritised the ‘new’; new technologies, new decision-making processes, new social and economic relations. There is, however, a dearth of research that addresses the question of what happens with the old. This project addresses this gap by exploring the connection between emergence of the new and the disappearance of the old, by asking:

(1) What forms of social and material life are 'unmade' through attempts to ‘green’ energy infrastructures, and (2) What role do imaginaries of the ‘new’ play in governing these processes?

My starting point is thus that the anticipated disappearance of fossil fuels is not a passive process of loss, but requires an active, and contested, process of ‘unmaking’ the social relations sustained through them. The processes of unmaking these relations are realised through the unique temporality of climate risk. Unlike many other risks, the foreseeable nature of climate risk provides the opportunity for long-term planning. But, through dismantling high-carbon regional economies today to pre-empt future losses, present and future also become deeply entangled. Such entanglement also offers particular governance challenges,which bring to the fore not only questions of distributive justice, but also–especially–questions around how recognition and procedural justice are enacted through processes of anticipation. By asking how, and by whom, the future is imagined, negotiated and enacted, this research will thus shine a new light on how a 'just transition' might be achieved.