Joe Williams reports on a recent workshop in Bergen, Norway, hosted by the SpaceLab team and attended by a group of energy and urban climate researchers from Manchester.
A group of researchers from the Centre for Urban Resilience and Energy (CURE) recently travelled to Norway for a workshop on Urban Climate and Energy Transformations.
The purpose of the workshop was to discuss core conceptual issues around urban energy and sustainability. Following the recent appointment of Stefan Bouzarovski as visiting professor at the University of Bergen’s Department of Geography, the workshop also aimed to facilitate international collaboration between CURE and the recently established SpaceLab. The Spaces of Climate and Energy Laboratory (SpaceLab), headed by Dr Håvard Haarstad, was set up to further sustained research on urban energy transformations. The multiple shared interests between CURE and SpaceLab formed the basis for fruitful and engaging discussion between the two groups.
Set a few miles outside the city of Bergen in the historic Solstrand Hotel, which was built in 1896 by Norway’s first prime minister, the picturesque views of the fjord and snow-capped mountains could hardly have provided a more dramatic backdrop to our discussions.
On the first day, our efforts were structured around small group discussions on two related themes. In the first, talk was based on the core question ‘climate versus justice?’ Here, we problematized the multiple (in)compatibilities between imperatives for climate adaptation and ecological sustainability on the one hand, and social justice on the other. Our objective was to question whether and how notions of vulnerability and equity could be integrated into more just forms of sustainable transformation. The second theme considered the role of systemic change in energy transitions/transformations. In particular, although by no means exclusively, we discussed the place of innovation as occupying a contradictory position between being a catalyst for meaningful and potentially radical techno-political change (transformation), and as a byword for business-as-usual forms of technological change (transition). The day concluded with a feedback and general discussion session.
On the second day we were encouraged to consider more deeply our role as academics in creating or influencing change. This began with a morning discussion entitled ‘researchers as agents of change.’ In this session we considered, firstly, the multiple ways in which we can and do influence change, and secondly, the sometimes contradictory position occupied by academics in both producing scientific knowledge and engaging in normative political and social projects. After this, we travelled to the city of Bergen, where we were hosted for a lunch meeting by representatives from the municipality. The meeting involved a number of short presentations on existing and potential collaborations between CURE/SpaceLab and policymakers. PhD researcher and CURE member, Gabriele Schliwa, presented the University of Manchester’s on-going work on living labs as collaborative approach at the intersection between academia, public and private sector as well as civic society, using cycling and sustainable mobility as a case study.
Overall, the workshop provided a promising start for a potentially long and rewarding collaboration between the two groups.