Exploring vulnerabilities in the Anthropocene: the energy-climate nexus

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Photo by Saska Petrova

Call for papers – 2015 Annual International Conference of the Royal Geographical Society

Organised by Sergio Tirado-Herrero, University of Manchester; Saska Petrova, University of Manchester; Stefan Bouzarovski, University of Manchester.

Sponsored by the Energy Geographies Working Group

This conference session aims to discuss the notion of vulnerability as an instrument for enhancing our understanding of the risks heralded by the Anthropocene, and to explore alternative avenues for improving the responses to such threats. Departing from definitions of vulnerability in sustainability studies (Turner et al., 2003; Smit and Wandel, 2006; Gallopín, 2006), it will assess the exposure of disadvantaged populations to hazards, and the sensitivity, adaptive capacity and resilience of coupled human-environment systems. These closely related, overlapping concepts provide a starting point for a comprehensive investigation of the nature, impacts and ways of counteracting human-induced disturbances in socio-ecological systems. A focal point of special interest is the politics of vulnerability and resilience as way to acknowledge the significance of the social and spatial re-distribution of costs and benefits brought about by vulnerability-relevant policy action across all scales of governance.

The session will provide an examination of these themes in the broader context of the planetary-scale environmental disruptions caused by an unsustainable use of energy. The need to redress the direction of such developments in a global context of growing demand for energy services and aspirations for a better life is being articulated through frameworks such as the energy-poverty-climate nexus that sees in the “lack of access to improved energy services and worsening environmental shocks due to climate change” two key interconnected obstacles to the alleviation of poverty at a global scale (Casillas and Kammnen, 2010). In parallel, a far-reaching transformation of energy provision systems is being attempted through a diversity of environmentally-explicit ‘energy transition’ pathways that aim at thereconfiguration of the energy sector towards new technical or institutional arrangements mainly predicated on low carbon sources (Bridge et al., 2013; Rutherford and Coutard, 2014).

The effect of these rapidly changing energy and climate landscapes is not neutral for vulnerable populations, communities and regions both in the Global North and South.  Evidence of the inherent unevenness of such processes can be seen in the multiple disruptions occurring throughout the water-energy-food-climate nexus in low-income nations (World Economic Forum, 2011), the link between monetary poverty and domestic energy deprivation levels found across member states of the EU (Tirado-Herrero and Bouzarovski, 2014), or the human health risks posed by increasing global temperatures in developed and developing world regions (Patz et al., 2005). As acknowledged by the latest IPCC (2014) WG III report, “differences in vulnerability and exposure arise from non-climatic factors and from multi-dimensional inequalities often produced by uneven development processes”. This calls for a careful exploration of spatial patterns and political dimensions emerging from the human-influenced co-evolution of coupled energy-climate systems.

Against this background, the proposed session aims to further investigate the manner in which vulnerability thinking can be applied to explore how disadvantaged, populations experience and react to of the on-going transformations in energy and climate landscapes. The session also seeks to consider the capacity of such populations to adapt, confront and intervene in the processes leading to the setting of new conditions. We thus welcome contributions that critically reflect on the multiple dimensions and interlinkages of the energy-climate nexus. Topics may include, but are not limited to, the following:

  1. Theoretical contributions about the nature and significance of the notions of vulnerability, sensitivity, adaptive capacity and resilience for a better understanding of seemingly unrelated phenomena and for a critical examination of related policy action.
  1. Evidence-based reflections on the political dimensions of energy-climate systems, such as the analysis of movements resisting the development of large (energy) technical systems or the assessment of inequalities and power relations in domestic energy provision systems.
  1. Research about specific themes such as environmental and climate justice, energy poverty and vulnerability, or the distributional effects and political ecology of climate change, energy supply and energy transitions.
  1. Case studies providing actual and foreseeable evidence of the main themes addressed in this session, and of the opportunities and risks of an integrated approach to addressing the energy-climate nexus as a multi-dimensional challenge.
  1. Critical reflections on the role of researchers and academic institutions in voicing the needs, concerns and demands of vulnerable populations subject to the transformations occurring in energy and climate systems.

Keywords: vulnerability, energy, poverty, climate, energy transition, nexus

Titles and abstracts, of no more than 300 words, to Sergio Tirado-Herrero (sergio.tirado-herrero@manchester.ac.uk) by Friday February 13th.

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