PhD defence R. (Rick) Bosman

Into Transition Space: Destabilisation and incumbent agency in an accelerating energy transition

Prof.dr. D.A. Loorbach

Promotor J. Rotmans

Friday 18 Nov 2022, 13:00 - 14:30
PhD defence
Senate Hall
Erasmus Building
Campus Woudestein
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R. Bosman will defend his PhD dissertation on Friday 18 November 2022, entitled: ’Into Transition Space: Destabilisation and incumbent agency in an accelerating energy transition‘.

Dissertation in short:

Humankind is facing several severe societal challenges. Of these challenges, climate change is the most daunting in terms of likelihood and impact, according to the Global Risks Report prepared for the World Economic Forum. Meanwhile, it is scientifically established that the main cause for climate change is anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, most prominently carbon dioxide, and that the burning of fossil fuels is the main contributor to such emissions. Research finds that if global warming is to remain below 2o C, and preferably 1,5 degrees, as has been agreed upon in the Paris climate agreement of December 2015, 82% of currently known coal reserves, 50% of gas, and 33% of oil reserves must remain unburned. Thus, in order to avoid dangerous climate change, an energy transition is necessary: a shift away from fossil fuels towards an energy system based on renewable and
sustainable energy sources. 

The field of sustainability transitions research focuses on understanding such fundamental shifts in societal systems towards a more sustainable state and the implications for policy and governance. Transitions are processes of parallel build-up of sustainable alternatives and break-down and phase-out of unstainable elements of the incumbent regime. When a regime comes under pressure from external developments and crises, and sustainable alternatives become increasingly viable, a radical regime shift can take place. However, in order for such a transition to occur, the incumbent regime needs to destabilize to create room for other ways of thinking, doing and organising.

By now, everywhere in the energy domain signs of such destabilisation can be observed: Coal fired power plants that have opened as recently as 2015, are being decommissioned again. Conflicts are fought out in court: cases have been won against the government for not doing enough to protect its citizens against the threats of climate change. And a case brought against oil company Shell decided in favour of the environmental NGO’s who sued the company in order to bring its greenhouse gas emissions in line with the Paris climate agreement. Participants are successfully putting pressure on their pension funds to divest from the fossil fuel industry. Energy companies have lost up to 80% of their market value over the last decade and some of them are completely reinventing themselves into sustainable energy companies.

Such destabilisation is the context in which historically stable societal conditions erode. For actors used to operate in a relatively stable and coherent regime context, destabilisation is the gradual and self-reinforcing dissolution of such stability, predictability and coherence of their operating environment. For incumbents, navigating such divergence is much more challenging than a context dominated by a rather stable hegemonic regime. At the same time the increased diversity, conflicts and tensions opens up space for new entrants and their problem understandings and preferred solutions enabling courses of action and actor constellations that were unlikely before.

The main research question underlying this thesis is: How can we understand transition dynamics in between two equilibria, what are the implications for actors that used to operate within a regime context, and how can they navigate such a regime vacuum?

More information

The public defence will begin exactly at 13.00 hrs. The doors will be closed once the public defence starts, latecomers may be able to watch on the screen outside. There is no possibility of entrance during the first part of the ceremony. Due to the solemn nature of the ceremony, we recommend that you do not take children under the age of 6 to the first part of the ceremony.

A live stream link has been provided to the candidate.

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