Energy Transitions Governance

Published 02 April, 2019

Håvard Haarstad

Professor, Director, Centre for Climate and Energy Transformation, University of Bergen

Siddharth Sareen

Postdoctoral fellow, SpaceLab, Centre for Climate and Energy Transformation, University of Bergen

This Special Issue will be published in conjunction with and following a workshop in Bergen, Norway, 15 – 16 May, 2019.

Energy Transitions Governance

Legitimacy and Accountability in the Governance of Sustainable Energy Transitions

The need to address drivers of climate change and persistent inequity is urgent (IPCC 2018). While responses to both concerns remain insufficient, rapid and massive changes are underway in the energy sector (Falk et al. 2018, Geels et al. 2017). Energy transitions are fuelled by drastic cost reductions in renewable energy, especially solar, and by actions based on recognition of the fossil fuel era as untenable. Sustainable energy transitions scholarship has burgeoned, yet struggled to keep pace with recent changes (Bridge et al. 2013; Sovacool 2014; Markard 2018). Techno-economic analyses of the energy sector are increasingly accompanied by socio-political perspectives (e.g., Cherp et al. 2018; Van de Graaf 2013). It is clear that sustainable energy transitions require material, institutional and relational change towards rapid and deep sectoral decarbonisation in equitable ways (Sareen and Haarstad 2018; Schot and Kanger 2018). Without equity, this historic opportunity for systemic transformation risks cooption by entrenched powerful actors, eager to privilege their own interests, rather than generating essential public benefits under transition (Bickerstaff et al. 2013, Dubash et al. 2018).

Building equity into processes of systemic change requires instituting strong mechanisms that generate public benefits while legitimating new infrastructure and practices (see Tallberg et al. 2018). This special issue aims to catalyze the application of environmental governance insights on accountability and legitimacy along these analytical lines (e.g. Kramarz and Park 2016; Kramarz and Park 2017) within energy transitions research. By calling for work by scholars with an interest in questions of legitimacy, governance and power relations under sectoral change, we seek to promote socio-politically informed studies on the governance of energy transitions at various scales.

Energy transitions imply changes in flows of legitimacy, the means through which organisations derive authority and allocate resources (Suchman 1995) in a mutual act of recognition between entities granting and claiming rights (Lund 2016). These legitimation practices can be observed empirically (Kraft and Wolf 2018) to characterise energy transitions. For instance, solar developers legitimate their access to land and grid networks through licenses and permits, and various institutions produce their authority over solar uptake by creating new mandates for such clearances. Such legitimation practices constitute accountability relations: institutions uphold them in order to maintain authority and accountees conform to them in order to benefit. A relational ontology foregrounds mutual interactions between entities over the nature of each entity (Bouzarovski and Haarstad 2018).

Identifying how to strengthen accountability relations between decision-making institutions and energy publics can help institute mechanisms that generate public benefits under transition.

A challenge in current energy governance scholarship worldwide is the number of proliferating frameworks (cf. Sovacool and Hess 2017) and a sense that there is a case to fit any framework. Empirically grounded traditions within environmental governance can make a relevant contribution here to develop a rigorous analytical lens (Smith and Stirling 2010). By studying practices of legitimation – social relations that use accountability as a premise and relationally produce it – this lens will enable us to understand how accountability relations evolve under energy transitions. Such an approach can inform strategies to institutionalize strong accountability and challenge hollow performances of accountability (cf. Bovens 2007). In this time of ‘fake news’ and political lobbying by entrenched fossil fuel interests, this will provide a much-needed fillip for deliberative assessment to drive sanctions on specific issues under sectoral transition. Developing such an evidence-based approach can help institute decarbonisation strategies that simultaneously mitigate climate change and target inequity.

Papers for the Special Issue will enable such ideation and input by focusing, implicitly or explicitly, on the dynamic construction of accountability. Contributors will employ environmental governance concepts to analyze the production and maintenance of institutional authority and accountability relations in the energy sector. In novel ways, they will address what the new configurations of authority and infrastructure being assembled imply for decarbonisation (climate change mitigation) and resource allocation (equity). The analytical development of an approach focusing on accountability relations is key towards bridging conceptual framings and empirical examination of energy governance. We expect this collection to catalyse multi-sectoral and interdisciplinary dialogue within environmental and energy governance scholarship.


This Special Issue will be published in conjunction with and following a Workshop in Bergen, Norway, 15 – 16 May, 2019. Submissions are subject to several rounds of peer review, for which the following deadlines apply:

  • Abstract submission deadline: 10 December 2018
  • Manuscript submission deadline for the conference papers: 1 March 2019
  • Presentation and feedback at workshop in Bergen (optional): 15-16 May 2019
  • Journal submission for peer review: 31 May 2019

Guide for Authors:

Abstracts should be 300 words or less, accompanied by a title page with full names, institutional affiliations and (if available) links to the official webpages of all authors, an e-mail address for the corresponding author, and submitted by December 10, 2018. Manuscript submission by March 1, 2019 without a pre-selected abstract is permissible, but please notify the Guest Editors in advance to the extent possible. Manuscripts should be 8,000 words or less, all inclusive, and include title page details as above. Please refer to the Global Transitions Guide for Authors: Both abstracts and draft conference papers should be submitted to


Selected authors are encouraged to participate in a workshop in Bergen, Norway, during 15-16 May 2019, which is associated with this call for papers. The aim is to provide feedback and adequate opportunity to improve manuscripts before submitting them to the journal. Accepted articles for this Special Issue will be published fully Open Access on ScienceDirect, without any Article Processing Charges (APC).

The following thought leaders will deliver keynote presentations during the workshop:

Selected participants will not be charged any participation fees, and will benefit from having a senior invitee serve as discussant on their paper, besides comments from other workshop participants. Participants are expected to self-finance their travel and stay costs. Complimentary lunches and coffee will be provided during the workshop. If you require a travel bursary, please indicate this and provide requisite details when submitting an abstract by December 10, 2018. Bursaries may be available for some participants, contingent upon submission of a full manuscript for editorial feedback by March 1, 2019. Remote participation via livestream will be facilitated for presenters who are unable to come to Bergen.


  • IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), 2018. Global Warming of 1.5°C. Accessed 14th October 2018:
  • Falk, J., Gaffney, O., Bhowmik, A.K., Borgström-Hansson, C., Pountney, C., Lundén, D., Pihl, E., Malmodin, J., Lenhart, J., Jónás, K., Höjer, M., Bergmark, P., Sareen, S., Widforss, S., Henningsson, S., Plitt, S., and Shalit, T., 2018. Exponential Climate Action Roadmap. Future Earth Sweden. Accessed 14th October 2018:
  • Geels, F.W., Sovacool, B.K., Schwanen, T. and Sorrell, S., 2017. Sociotechnical transitions for deep decarbonization. Science, 357(6357), pp. 1242-1244.
  • Bridge, G., Bouzarovski, S., Bradshaw, M. and Eyre, N., 2013. Geographies of energy transition: Space, place and the low-carbon economy. Energy Policy, 53, pp. 331-340.
  • Sovacool, B.K., 2014. What are we doing here? Analyzing fifteen years of energy scholarship and proposing a social science research agenda. Energy Research & Social Science, 1, pp. 1-29.
  • Markard, J., 2018. The next phase of the energy transition and its implications for research and policy. Nature Energy, 3, pp. 628-633.
  • Cherp, A., Vinichenko, V., Jewell, J., Brutschin, E. and Sovacool, B., 2018. Integrating techno-economic, socio-technical and political perspectives on national energy transitions: A meta-theoretical framework. Energy Research & Social Science, 37, pp. 175-190.
  • Van de Graaf, T., 2013. The politics and institutions of global energy governance. Springer.
  • Sareen, S. and Haarstad, H., 2018. Bridging socio-technical and justice aspects of sustainable energy transitions. Applied Energy, 228, pp. 624-632.
  • Schot, J. and Kanger, L., 2018. Deep transitions: Emergence, acceleration, stabilization and directionality. Research Policy, 47(6), pp. 1045-1059.
  • Bickerstaff, K., Walker, G. and Bulkeley, H., eds., 2013. Energy justice in a changing climate: social equity and low-carbon energy. Zed Books Ltd.
  • Dubash, N.K., Kale, S.S. and Bharvirkar, R., eds., 2018. Mapping Power: The Political Economy of Electricity in India’s States. Oxford University Press.
  • Tallberg, J., Bäckstrand, K. and Scholte, J.A., eds., 2018. Legitimacy in Global Governance: Sources, Processes, and Consequences. Oxford University Press.
  • Kramarz, T. and Park, S., 2016. Accountability in global environmental governance: A meaningful tool for action? Global Environmental Politics, 16(2), pp. 1-21.
  • Kramarz, T. and Park, S., 2017. Introduction: The politics of environmental accountability. Review of Policy Research, 34(1), pp. 4-9.
  • Suchman, M.C., 1995. Managing legitimacy: Strategic and institutional approaches. Academy of Management Review, 20(3), pp. 571-610.
  • Lund, C., 2016. Rule and rupture: State formation through the production of property and citizenship. Development and Change, 47(6), pp. 1199-1228.
  • Kraft, B. and Wolf, S., 2018. Through the Lens of Accountability: Analyzing Legitimacy in Environmental Governance. Organization & Environment, 31(1), pp. 70-92.
  • Bouzarovski, S. and Haarstad, H., 2018. Rescaling low‐carbon transformations: Towards a relational ontology. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, in press:
  • Sovacool, B.K. and Hess, D.J., 2017. Ordering theories: Typologies and conceptual frameworks for sociotechnical change. Social Studies of Science, 47(5), pp. 703-750.
  • Smith, A. and Stirling, A., 2010. The politics of social-ecological resilience and sustainable socio-technical transitions. Ecology and Society, 15(1), 11.
  • Bovens, M., 2007. Analysing and assessing accountability: A conceptual framework. European Law Journal, 13(4), pp. 447-468.

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