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Exploring the governance and politics of transformations towards sustainability

Updated: Aug 2, 2022

Is there one path to sustainable futures? Read how a research paper discovers core aspects of four approaches to governance transitions.

We are liable for shaping the planet now. The unprecedented effects of our actions in the anthropocene are deadly and there are time-bound opportunities available for us to change. For comprehending possible pathways of sustainable environmental and societal change, the notion of ‘transformations towards sustainability’ is becoming important. Governance and politics are crucial in these transformations required in the global sustainability discourses. Governments must create conducive conditions, push transformation and also enable transformations within the governance regimes.

The paper by James Patterson et al. on 'Exploring the governance and politics of transformations towards sustainability' seeks to emphasize this vital role of governance and politics of transformations. It undertakes a literature review of four approaches beneficial to apply in governance and politics. The paper employs a non-judgemental meta-framework for systematically considering key challenges and cross-cutting themes of the approaches to governance and politics of transformations. The Earth System Governance framework is used to highlight the aspects and gaps of governance in the four approaches. While no one approach is favoured over the other, the framework studies dimensions like architecture, agency, adaptiveness, accountability, allocation, access, power, knowledge, norms, and scale.

It recognizes the substantial desirability of plural approaches and the major opportunity to strengthen these approaches by integrating cross-case insights gathered through the framework. Setting up the foundation for progressive incremental change by governments, this paper further initiates research required in this largely disintegrated and underdeveloped field. Let's recap the key findings of the research.

Socio-technical Transitions Approach

This approach focuses on long-term changes made in socio-technical systems for accomplishing sustainable production and consumption. Socio-technical systems include different sectors like energy, waste, water, and food systems which have been recognized as the important research domains under the ESG framework for this approach along with spatial location. The research recognizes the interaction of agents; leaders, entrepreneurs, and transition teams, with actors and institutes. It is seen that the elements of the approach are structured in multiple levels (micro, meso, and macro) that are interdependent, related and non-hierarchical. Innovations in this approach emphasize sharing of non-technical and scientific knowledge materials.

Despite the merits, this approach is found to pay less attention to the issues of access, allocation, and accountability. It is also critiqued to be disregarding power struggles and norms. An example relevant to this approach is the upcoming shift to solar photovoltaic sources for electricity production, it entails elements like infrastructure, policy, market preference, cultural values, techno-scientific knowledge and more that accurately represent the nature of such transitions.

Social-ecological Transformations

This approach focuses on resilient natural resource use and management through transformations in human-ecosystem interactions. It involves modification of the process of accessing resources for water, wood, farming land, and more. In this approach, it is understood that social innovation occurs via social entrepreneurship as agents. The paper acknowledges the importance of the dynamic of local scales and broader institutional levels along with local knowledge. This approach advocates adaptiveness as a core process and exemplifies how resilience and transformations go hand in hand. Similar to the transition approach on the dimensions of allocation, access, power, and norms, it fails to recognize these important aspects. Such transformations can be seen in the drying farm lands where organic farming like permaculture have been implemented at the local level for economic and social benefit.

Sustainability Pathways

This approach discusses the possible sustainable changes through human development relevant in the situational context. Change happens through this approach with identification of mapping risks and setting visions. Deeply political in nature, it seeks to empower the marginalized sections of society to participate in decision making processes. The paper apprehends the importance of these marginalized sections as agents to exert decision making power. Equity and justice are identified as crucial components of change in this approach. Unlike other approaches, it is led by unique perspectives of change by the people and for the people. This individuality of change is recognized as a challenge of this approach as it becomes less focused on determining the trajectories of change. Skill enhancement programs and opportunities for the poor are a great example of such change in rural areas with low employment and skill levels, they foster participation and growth of the poor.

Transformative Adaptation

This approach targets vulnerable populations and climate change for shifting to desirable trajectories of change. It emphasizes the need for intentional efforts instead of social engineering for the future. The paper indicates the relevance of changing social and political structures in this approach. It showcases the need for equitable outcomes for especially vulnerable groups that must be involved in showing power against structures. This approach is found to be the strongest in addressing power differences and democratization of governance. It highlights the value of norms in shaping the future of vulnerable groups. However, this approach is criticized for its focus on plurality and climate change. Restoring a degenerated forest and welcoming back relocated tribal populations reflects ideal transformative adaptation.

Thus, the paper gives a forward looking sense to governance approaches and raises pertinent questions for development of theories ahead. Analyzing the pros and cons of all approaches, it brings up many issues like pluralism, accountability, governance structures, long time-frames, ethics, and values to notice.

Read the article below for a comprehensive understanding-


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