This thesis explores the politics of decarbonization pathways, with a particular focus on the responses to and conflicts surrounding the transition to a low-carbon energy future. As part of this, the dissertation: (1) scrutinizes how the concept of "pathways" is understood within climate-energy policy and analysis; and (2) attends to the struggles involved in pursuing potential pathways to carbon-neutral energy systems. Two overarching and interrelated research questions orient this work. First, how are pathways understood in the context of the low-carbon transition? And second, how are the socio-technical responses that help make up these pathways contested and shaped through politics?
The introductory chapter of this thesis lays the groundwork for interrogating these questions, providing background on the subject of climate change, outlining the role of energy in this challenge, raising issues around the governance of low-carbon transitions, identifying research aims and questions, and discussing relevant research perspectives and approaches. Drawing on transition and discursive perspectives, chapters 2 through 4 then present three studies that take up the research questions by exploring different political aspects of decarbonization pathways. A concluding chapter reflects on the contributions of this work and potential future directions.
The three studies forming the core contributions of this dissertation have been published in peer-reviewed academic journals. The first article elucidates the way in which diverse actors construct meaning around the concept of "pathways" in the context of the low-carbon transition. The second article uncovers ideational conflicts surrounding a historical episode of low-carbon change: the phase-out of coal-fired power in Ontario. The third article reveals tensions and alignments around an unfolding episode of low-carbon change: how different energy systems (electricity, transport, and heating) and their affiliated actors are interacting around expanded societal electrification and electricity trade. Broadly, the three papers developed here underscore that ideas matter in transitions. These ideas relate not only to the concepts and categories used to frame the climate challenge (such as "pathways") but also the narratives linked to possible responses (alternative innovations and institutional arrangements) that are advanced by contending interests.