Power and politics: the elephant in the room in sustainability debates

This year will see the culmination of two major global agreements for climate change and development. From 30 November to 11 December, worldwide negotiators will gather in Paris at the 21st Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to hammer out a deal that will define post-Kyoto commitments for the next 15 years. The climate negotiations will follow earlier decisions for the adoption of new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with broad objectives applicable to all countries. While the “Road to Paris” and the SDGs continue to gather momentum, much works remain to be done in reconciling long-lasting tensions between climate change and development and rallying diverse international, national and local actors.

Despite numerous high-level meetings, debates and associated civil society mobilisations since at least the 1992 UN Rio Conference on Environment and Development, power and politics have often been the elephant in the room in sustainability debates. Meanwhile, discussions around green transformations often remain largely focused on technology fixes, prices and, to some extent, governance, leaving out crucial questions such as who sets the terms of the transformation, what is to be transformed, who is doing the transforming, and who benefits and looses. Considering the contested nature of sustainability and acknowledging trade-offs rather than solely focusing on win-win solutions is, however, paramount in a world where many powerful actors have to loose out from green transformations.

If you are interested in reading more about the impact and background of those global agreements, you can read another detailed article on this topic by Sandra called ‘Unpacking multiple “shades of green” to make hope possible‘.

About the author:

Sandra Pointel is a doctoral researcher at SPRU – Science and Technology Policy Research. Her research focuses on low carbon development and energy access in Africa, under the supervision of Robert Byrne and Fiona Marshall. She is a member of the Sussex Energy Group.

Sandra Pointel

Sandra Pointel, PhD student at Sussex Energy Group, SPRU, University of Sussex

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