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Van Eesteren Lecture Series 2021 - Unapologetically inclusive transitions

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Unapologetically inclusive transitions (Vanesa Castán Broto, the Urban Institute, University of Sheffield)

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We are at a crucial moment in time, the global crises such as climate change or migration, but also the increasing inequality and the realization that our earth is a finite resource are all triggers that could abruptly alter the status quo. Unfortunately, as argued by Giddens (2009, p. 2), most of these challenges “aren’t tangible, immediate or visible in the course of day-to-day life” that is why for most people actions to address these challenges are not high on the agenda. However, not addressing them today ultimately leads to their insolvability in the long run. Already today, we observe globally how the rising levels of uncertainty give way to increased turmoil, protest and fear. Crises offer a chance for change, existing institutions and ways of doing can and should be, questioned. The search for new value systems becomes increasingly apparent (Grin, Rotmans, & Schot, 2010, p. 1).

Current challenges and problems are so deeply rooted in our societal structure and consequently in our day to day practices so that any change towards new systems will require both new (daily) practices and profound structural change (Grin et al., 2010). Grin et al. (2010, pp. 1, 11) define transitions as “profound processes of change”, as “shifts from one socio-technical system to another”. Transitions are long term processes, whereby multiple actors are working through different levels in order to achieve “the reconfiguration of the institutional and organisational structures and systems of society” (Grin et al., 2010, pp. 11–13; Swilling & Annecke, 2012, p. xvi).

Today the focus of envisaged transitions is mostly on sustainability, whereby climate change and related ecological process are the centres of attention. Technical innovations are often seen as possible solutions. However, and despite acknowledging the fact that technological innovation is crucial, a successful transition can only happen when attention is paid to the social, economic and cultural context and change. More importantly, and reinforcing Swilling and Annecke’s (2012, p. viii) argument, the imagined transition does not only result in “a mode of production and consumption that is not dependent on resource depletion and environmental degradation”, but is also a just transition, thus one that addresses the socio-economical inequalities and (global) poverty.

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