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Thematic Fields

We suggest a number of thematic fields as a guideline to address contemporary challenges of the interplay between science, technology and society. We encourage session proposers to follow the guidelines.We suggest a number of thematic fields as a guideline to address contemporary challenges of the interplay between science, technology and society. We encourage session proposers to follow the guidelines.

C.1 Towards just transitions: Ambitious climate policies and social fairness

Michael Kriechbaum1,2, Thomas Brudermann2

1: Graz University of Technology, Austria; 2: University of Graz, Austria

If taken seriously, the climate targets set by the world community will require national governments to implement ambitious mitigation policies. These policies will have to radically transform our energy systems and economic activities and are likely to be associated with (dis)empowering dynamics and power struggles (Avelino, 2017). For instance, while economists expect the overall (economic) impacts of ambitious climate policies to be positive (Stern, 2015), they also point at the risk of disruptions of certain industries and unfair distribution of benefits (and costs) among and between different groups of society (Fankhauser and Jotzo, 2017). The implementation of ambitious climate policies is thus inherently linked with issues of social fairness and justice and requires strategies that allow for dealing with vulnerable groups and potentially adverse impacts (Markkanen and Anger-Kraavi, 2019).

This session call invites contributions that explore national climate policies from a social fairness and justice perspective. We particularly welcome contributions that:

  • go beyond purely economic considerations and deal with non-financial impacts such as impacts associated with social networks, emotional attachments, or metal well-being
  • describe the discursive struggles over ‘collective interpretations’ of ambitious climate policy, or
  • develop adequate measures and policy strategies for mitigating adverse impacts of ambitious climate policy.

Keywords: just transitions, ambitious climate policy, social fairness, discursive struggles, climate ethics


Avelino, F. (2017) Power in Sustainability Transitions. Analysing Power and (Dis)Empowerment in Transformative Change towards Environmental and Social Sustainability, Journal of Environmental Policy & Governance, 27(6): 505–520. 
Stern, N. (2015): Why are we waiting? The logic, urgency, and promise of tackling climate change. London: The MIT Press. 
Fankhauser, S. and Jotzo, F. (2017): Economic growth and development with low-carbon energy. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change 9: e495. 
Markkanen, S. and Anger-Kraavi, A. (2019): Social impacts of climate change mitigation policies and their implications for inequality. Climate Policy 19(7), 827–844.

C.2  Understanding the embeddedness of individuals within the larger system to support the energy transition

Katharina Biely

Delft Technical University, The Netherlands

Humanity is experiencing an unprecedented era, which some call the Anthropocene. Humans have a major impact on the environment, which amongst others, causes the global climate to change. Experts warn from reaching tipping points at which climate change underlying dynamics take over which will make it hard to halt further aggravation of the situation. To avoid reaching such tipping points action is needed. For example, our energy system(s) need to be transformed. Such a transformation encompasses efficiency, sufficiency as well as distributional aspects. In short, our energy systems need to be redesigned. As indicated the redesign is not limited to technical components of the energy system. Human behavior is another relevant aspect. The concept of prosumers, for example, indicates that the role of individuals in the new energy system will be completely different compared to the role individuals have in the presently existing system. Such new role for example evokes the question who is the driver for the energy transition to happen? Is it up to individuals (in their role as i.e., citizen or consumer), is it up to policy makers, businesses, or institutions? Different theories suggest different answers to these questions.

In this session we are looking forward to receiving contributions that shed light on the role of individuals within the larger context of the energy transition and how such an energy transition with a focus on individuals and their embeddedness within society, institutions or markets can be designed. Such investigation may require applying a multi-level-perspective. However, how are individuals exactly interacting with higher organizational levels? How may change initiatives at one level affect other levels? What is the “vehicle” of change? Are market mechanisms the only “vehicle” of change, or are there other powerful means that can help support a transition? Contributions may not be limited to socio-technical transition theory but my make use of other approaches such as socio-economic, socio-institutional, socio-ecological. We are welcoming interdisciplinary research making use of qualitative as well as quantitative methods. Contributions may investigate specific cases or look at the issue on a conceptual level.

Keywords: behavior, agency, systems thinking, energy transition

C. 3 The transition to low-carbon energy systems and new regimes of ownership

Marco Sonnberger1, Matthias Gross1,2

1: Friedrich-Schiller-University Jena, Germany; 2: Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ), Germany

Energy systems are in transition all around the world. Modern societies are systematically exploiting renewable energy sources on an ever faster and growing scale. This entails both transformations of energy regimes in particular and of nature-society-technology relations in general: not only do new uncertainties, non-knowledge, and unintended side effects keep arising in the context of energy transitions, but also new social conflicts and inequalities. The increasing volarization of commons such as wind, sun, or underground heat raises questions of property and access rights as well as energy democracy in general. Colloquial terms such as wind or solar “harvest” as well as alleged cases of wind or heat “theft” point to the ongoing assetization and propertization of renewables. Public debates around the question who owns renewables and has access to them as well as the rise of renewable energy cooperatives also point to emerging changes in existing ownership regimes and perhaps even new understandings of ownership and property rights. In this context, we are particularly interested in the analysis of emerging conflicts, framings, trade-offs, side effects as well as emerging decision making structures around ownership regimes and property rights. Contributions to this paper session could address but are not limited to questions such as:

  • Do ownership regimes change in the context of renewable energy transitions? Are new ownership regimes emerging?
  • Are dominant ownership regimes contested in the context of energy transitions? What are novel conflicts?
  • To what extent do the qualities of renewables call for novel property rights frameworks?
  • How do different social actors frame and relate to property rights of renewables? How do renewables (and also other natural resources) become framed as ownable and alienable?
  • Do ownership and property regimes differ with regard to the technologies needed to “harvest” renewables and the renewable resources as such?
  • How do unintended side effects, new risks, or scientific non-knowledge impact changes in ownership regimes?
  • Are there new constellations between nature, technology and society that emerge with the increasing volarization of renewables? How are these constellations impacted by the ascription of property rights on renewables?
  • Are there any differences in “doing” ownership between renewable and fossil energy systems?

Keywords: ownership, assetization, propertization, renewables, conflicts

C.4 The context-dependency of conflict and participation issues in the energy transition

Sophie Kuppler1, Melanie Mbah2, Christine Rösch1

1: KIT, Germany; 2: Öko-Institut e.V., Germany 

Increasing the share of renewable energies requires rebuilding our energy supply system. Regardless of the strategy chosen – decentral or central energy supply – this involves the construction of various and manifold new energy plants and infrastructure installations at different places. Adhering to regulations in planning is often insufficient to ensure an approval and construction process in which emerging conflicts can be solved in a non-disruptive manner. Public participation or even transdisciplinary approaches are often considered suitable approaches to addressing public concerns and needs. In some cases, protests are fierce, or citizens place high expectations on the project developer regarding communication and design, procedural and economic participation, while in others this is not the case. Those differences cannot be solely linked to specific technologies, such as wind power or geothermal energy installations. National protest cultures or legal frameworks are only a small part of the complex puzzle of context factors influencing perceptions and behaviour.

Comprehensive research on relevant context factors is missing. However, case studies indicate that reasons for participation demand or disruptive conflicts include the NIMBY syndrome or more general opposition to specific technologies because of their trade-offs, drawbacks and risks for humans and nature. Examples of factors identified in the literature are:

  • land-use conflicts
  • values linked to an unspoilt state of nature and place attachment
  • environmental self-identity
  • understanding of climate change and the need to change the energy system
  • trust in and credibility of project developers and plant operators

In this session, we would like to offer a space to discuss different contextual factors that affect the conflict potential and the demands for participation in developing renewable energy installations. The session will consist of three introductory talks (15 min plus 5 min for questions each) followed by a plenary discussion (30 min). The speakers will be selected to reflect upon the session topic drawing on various case studies. We aim to cover experiences from Germany, Switzerland, and Austria, with each contribution focusing on one country. The plenary discussion will discuss the three initial talks, draw cross-country conclusions, debate the meaning of context factors for improving planning procedures, and identify further research needs.

Keywords: Public participation, context factors, energy infrastructure, public protests

C.5 Missions – how can public policy influence the direction of technical change to meet societal goals?

Wolfgang Johannes Polt1Matthias K. Weber2

1: Joanneum Research, Austria; 2: AIT, Austria

In recent years, mission-oriented policies have staged a comeback. Such policies try to exercise a direct influence on the direction, ambition and pace of socio-technical change. Traditionally, such missions were confined to more narrow scientific and technological goals, but in recent years have tried to address societal challenges in areas such as those defined by the five missions in Horizon Europe: Adaptation to Climate Change, Restore Oceans and Waters, Climate-Neutral and Smart Cities, Soil Deal for Europe, Fighting Cancer.
In parallel, several countries are piloting national missions and associated policies and programmes. Policy research has started to elaborate taxonomies and characteristics of various types of missions, as well as possible modalities of their governance in order to inform their further implementation, but it is widely recognized that missions are in fact a large-scale real-world policy experiment.
At the core of the debate in this session will be some of the most pertinent and contested aspects of this new generation of mission-oriented policies, namely
(i) to which extent research and technology can be important factors in achieving mission goals, (ii) to which degree public policy should define the technological milestones very concretely or whether the approach should be rather open-ended, and (iii) what policy and instrument mixes are best suited to guide the direction of science and innovation in line with mission goals.

Potential contributors: researchers, policy makers and practitioners, stakeholders of mission oriented policy (e.g. representatives of business enterprises, NGOs, concerned citizens, ..)

Keywords: Missions, Societal challenges, Transformative Policies