Ralph Schroeder | Journal of Global History
What is a low-carbon pathway? To many, it is a way of mitigating climate change. To others, it is about addressing market failure or capturing the co-benefits attached to low-carbon systems, such as jobs or improved health. To still others, it represents building adaptive capacity and resilience in the face of climate change. However, these interpretations can fail to acknowledge how pathways of low-carbon transitions can also become intertwined with processes and structures of inequality, exclusion and injustice. Using a critical lens that draws from a variety of disciplines, this article explores three ways through which responses to climate change can entrench, exacerbate or reconfigure the power of elites. As society attempts to create a low-carbon society, including for example via coastal protection efforts, disaster recovery, or climate change mitigation and renewable energy, these efforts intersect with at least three processes of elite power: experimentation, financialisation, and dispossession. Experimentation is when elites use the world as a laboratory to test or pilot low-carbon technologies or policy models, transferring risks yet not always sharing benefits. Financialisation refers to the expansion and proliferation of finance, capital, and financial markets in the global economy and many national economies, processes of which have recently extended to renewable energy. Dispossession is when elites use decarbonisation as a process through which to appropriate land, wealth, or other assets (and in the process make society more majoritarian and/or unequal). We explore these three themes using a variety of evidence across illustrative case studies, including hard and soft coastal protection measures (Bangladesh, Netherlands), climate risk insurance (Malawi), and renewable energy auctions and associated mechanisms of finance and investment (South Africa and Mexico).