Discourses of carbon neutrality and imaginaries of urban futures
My journal article "Discourses of carbon neutrality and imaginaries of urban futures" with Nicole Klenk has recently been published in Energy Research and Social Science. The paper examines urban policy documents that are mapping trajectories towards carbon neutral cities. These policy documents are imagining what it might mean to be a future carbon neutral city. We find a few themes in the stories that are told about low carbon governance and urban energy futures.
ABSTRACT: By analyzing the discourses in carbon governance texts, this paper identifies visions for the built environment in carbon neutral urban futures and the storylines driving those urban imaginaries. Local authorities have begun aiming for ‘carbon neutral’ transformations, but it is not clear what kind of city will result. Different imaginaries about the futurity of energy will send cities down divergent sociotechnical paths. Using discourse analysis, this paper identifies the storylines underlying sociotechnical imaginaries of urban carbon neutrality among the 17 founding members of the Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance, which is a network of local governments mainly from Europe and North America pioneering deep decarbonization. This paper elaborates on five storylines in urban carbon governance texts: 1. The diverse meanings of carbon neutrality 2. The new economy of carbon control 3. The city as a laboratory 4. Technological fixes and the modern city and 5. Reframing what it means to be a ‘good’ urban citizen. The developing sociotechnical imaginary of urban carbon neutrality is structuring shifts in policy and practice. Trends include a focus on technological fixes and innovation as solutions where private capital is a fundamental partner, as well as reflexivity about the experimental nature of achieving carbon neutrality.