RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2016


52 The Socio-politics of Nexus Thinking: Tyrannies of Scale and Security in Low Carbon Transitions (1): Political Economy Aspects
Affiliation Developing Areas Research Group
Energy Geographies Research Group
Convenor(s) Ed Brown (Loughborough University, UK)
Ben Campbell (Durham University, UK)
Jonathan Cloke (Loughborough University, UK)
Alison Mohr (University of Nottingham, UK)
Chair(s) Alison Mohr (University of Nottingham, UK)
Timetable Wednesday 31 August 2016, Session 2 (11:10 - 12:50)
Session abstract In generalized theoretical terms, the growing influence of nexus thinking as regards low carbon transitions and the SDGs is to be cautiously welcomed as an integrative and more nuanced approach to understandings and contestations of the nested, interconnected roles of energy, water and food in development. Its novelty rests on the claim that it can provide space for a wider and more holistic exploration of issues such as those that have already percolated into the energy literature, for instance, on the ‘energy trilemma’ (Kuzemko et al, 2015; Gunningham, 2012). Yet Stirling (2014) has cautioned that nexus thinking will not necessarily transcend the dangers raised by thinking in ‘silos’ as ‘integration’ too can be held hostage to the politics of framing of environmental problems. As a socio-political construct it thus poses some difficult questions: how does the word nexus, a coming-together, help to analyze the contradictions, contestations and clefts created by conflicts of interest and differences of power and knowledge? Nexus thinking, moreover, has already been positioned as an appendage of ‘security’: “improved water, energy and food security can be achieved through a nexus approach – an approach that integrates management and governance across sectors and scales (Hoff, 2011: 7).” Nexus thinking can therefore already be critiqued as a ‘truth regime’ (Bigo, 2006: 8) or a Foucauldian dispositif (1977) held captive by the biopolitics that have imagined it. Does nexus thinking create a false hope of the harmonization of interests where understanding and managing inherent conflicts should be the priority? If a nexus is a socially-constructed space for thinking about how limited resources can be conjoined, how does it address the assertion that “Spatial (in)justice is inextricably linked with both environmental and social (in)justices” (Smith, 2013: 2)? Lastly, by whom and at what scale can the idea of the nexus be most usefully deployed, who determines it and who benefits? Is it best analyzed and positioned at the local/community, regional, national/state or transnational/global scale, or does it need to be trans-scalar? This session will explore the idea of nexus thinking at the intersect of water, energy and food as “collectively imagined form(s) of social life and social order” (Jasanoff and Kim, 2009: 120), and explore the implications for how we should be approaching transitions and transition research in the future. Papers were invited to address such topics as: Explorations of food, water and energy intersectionality (particularly as they relate to systems of marginalization and disentitlement); How nexuses complement or conflict with communities, which constitute networks of power (or powerlessness); How is the ‘nexus thinking’ being articulated by specific actors and institutions and with what impacts?; How can the scope of the nexus be widened to include all stakeholders and how can ‘nexus’ be made as holistic as possible to avoid the tyranny of scale?; Is the food-energy-water nexus best considered as a heuristic for enquiry, or an objective for integrated efficiencies?; How can a nexus be operationalized to resolve trade-offs and increase mutual benefit?; How and at what scale are conflicts and trade-offs over resources to be resolved?; How does the concept of nexus relate to other existing integrative modes of thinking (e.g. networks, systems, assemblages etc.) with longer histories in studies of international development, natural resources etc.
Linked Sessions The Socio-politics of Nexus Thinking: Tyrannies of Scale and Security in Low Carbon Transitions (2): Critical Interrogations
The Socio-politics of Nexus Thinking: Tyrannies of Scale and Security in Low Carbon Transitions (3): Nexus as Innovation
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: AC2016@rgs.org
The contested nature of security within the food-energy-water nexus
Hussam Hussein (University of East Anglia, UK)
Rachael Taylor (University of Sussex, UK)
Sandra Pointel (University of Sussex, UK)
Academic and policy communities have recently shown an increased interest in the interconnected roles of the energy, water and food sectors. Broad concepts such as sustainable development and low carbon transitions have placed forefront the need to consider trade-offs and synergies in pursuing potentially competing agendas around access, security and sustainability of resources. At times, nexus perspectives are pushed as an important solution to mitigate increasing security concerns. Hoff (2011), for example, suggests a nexus approach, integrating management and governance across sectors and scales, could improve water, energy and food security. Such suggestion, however, requires specific attention to the reality on the ground. Particularly, security of resources has become increasingly complex and contested within each of the nexus sectors, where diverse actors frame problems and their solutions differently (Leach et al, 2010; Stirling, 2014). This paper explores contested understandings of security across the nexus sectors. Building on three cases from Ghana, Jordan and the United Kingdom, it analyses dominant and alternative discourses around energy security, water security, and food security. Particularly, it seeks to understand how different actors, in different contexts, have framed the issue to unpack multiple perspectives of what security of resources may mean. We argue that the increasing attention to the food-energy-water nexus somewhat overshadows the contested nature of the concept of security. In this context, future research and policy should pay more attention to what is to be secured and in whose interests when considering nexus approaches.
Beyond the nexus: Pro-poor, low carbon energy transformations as under the radar political struggle
David Ockwell (University of Sussex, UK)
Rob Byrne (University of Sussex, UK)
Adrian Ely (University of Sussex, UK)
Sam Geall (University of Sussex, UK)
Peter Newell (University of Sussex, UK)
Wei Shen (University of Sussex, UK)
Andy Stirling (University of Sussex, UK)
Stirling (2014) cautions that "nexus thinking" as a transformative approach is potentially as constrictively managerial as singular ideas of "The Transition", arguing that progressive transformative change characterised in the SDGs must be driven, not by discursive hierarchical structures towards pre-determined ends, but through emancipatory struggle around culturally-aware pluralistic values. This paper explores the traction such ideas have regarding distributive outcomes of low carbon energy in developing counties. Via an unusual comparison of solar PV in Kenya and China, the following hypothesis is explored: Pro-poor, low carbon energy transformations result from "under the radar" political efforts by actors who "care"; state-managed low carbon energy initiatives serve the interests of industry and economic growth. The analysis explores nascent attempts to integrate politics and political economy considerations into transitions thinking in ways more conducive to transformative change than are present in ideas of Nexus or Transition, based on existing work on low carbon energy in China (Tyfield et al., 2015, Shen and Power, in review, Watson et al., 2014) and Africa (Ockwell and Byrne, in press, Newell et al., 2014, Baker et al., 2014). Informed by a political economy approach to extending and testing implications of Stirling's thesis in a historical, comparative analysis, the paper examines state-driven, originally export-oriented industrial capacities around solar PV in China and the state-neglected transformation in off-grid solar PV in Kenya, touching on potentially transformative, pro-poor implications of the confluence between innovations in Chinese solar and Kenyan mobile payments (Rolffs et al., 2016).
Politicized Nexus Thinking in Practice: Integrating Municipal Companies into Rescaled Energy Markets
Timothy Moss (Humboldt University of Berlin, Germany)
Frank Hueesker (Technical University of Kaiserslautern, Germany)
Nexus thinking as a political agenda invites us to believe that the path towards a sustainable society is uncontested and a question of the right management, if we only identify cross-sectoral and multi-scale policy interdependencies, reduce mismatches in policy-making and increase inter-sectoral and scalar integration. The idea of the nexus might be compelling. However, nexus thinking should not be just a technical or organizational mode of governance. It should be embedded in its socio-political context and reflect challenges as perceived by relevant actors. Drawing on an emergent critical literature on nexus thinking in human geography, we explore in our paper practices of inter-sectoral integration and rescaling at the interface of wastewater treatment and energy provision. The paper poses the question: "Why, how and for whom are actors currently trying to integrate municipal utilities – and specifically their wastewater treatment plants – into rescaled energy policies and markets?" Analyzing fresh empirical fieldwork (interviews) we offer insights into the German "Energiewende", showing how local actors are participating in restructured energy markets on new regional scales and how powerful incumbent actors of energy provision are defending their market shares on old scalar levels. We frame our research in terms of familiar concepts of integrated resources management and politics of scale, aiming thereby to make a substantial contribution to social science research on the diverse geographies of water-energy nexus thinking
The socio-politics of large hydropower dams in Asia and Africa: implications for the food-energy-water nexus
Frauke Urban (SOAS, University of London, UK)
Giuseppina Siciliano (SOAS, University of London, UK)
May Tan-Mullins (University of Nottingham Ningbo, China)
Large hydropower dams are situated at the centre of the food-energy-water nexus. The dams industry is experiencing a revival driven by concerns about global climate change, national energy security and opportunities for low carbon energy generation. Yet, large dams come with severe social and environmental impacts. This paper presents the findings of the ESRC-funded 'China goes global' dams project which analysed the social, environmental, political and economic implications of large dams built and financed by Chinese actors in low and middle income countries in Asia and Africa. The research draws on 150 interviews across 5 countries with community members, Chinese firms, financiers, policy-makers, African/Asian policy-makers, NGOs, firms and business associations, donors and international experts; 40 focus group discussions with affected local communities; 149 household surveys; stakeholder mapping; a review of Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) and analysis of dam-builders' Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) strategies. The research finds an uneven distribution of costs and benefits at the national and local level and highlights the power struggles over access to natural resources such as land, forests and water among competing users. In the context of this conference, the tyrannies of scale and security are elaborated with regards to large hydropower dams and opportunities for more sustainable low carbon transitions are highlighted.

Re-shaping energy governance though the public-private-civic nexus
Shikha Lakhanpal (University of Illinois, USA)
Jonathan Cloke (Loughborough University, UK)
Ed Brown (Loughborough University, UK)
Worldwide there are 1.2 billion people without access to electricity. Global concerns over climate change mitigation and energy security are influencing local, decentralized renewable mini-grids across countries to address this challenge. Such community-based interventions proactively involve local people in control, management and ownership of the energy systems. The target population is no longer considered as passive consumers of low-carbon electricity. Rather, they are deemed to be actively involved, invested entrepreneurs or agents who participate in decision making, financing and other aspects of these decentralized mini grid systems. Importantly, such projects also apply a market-based approach to ensure repayment of the small-scale mini-grid infrastructure by the user community. This new model of energy production and supply, which we term 'Payment for sustainable energy systems' (PSES), is operationalized through an innovative integration of public finance through capital subsidies, market-based approaches and civic engagement. We argue that this marks a critical departure from publicly funded energy infrastructure and significantly re-shapes energy governance across spatial scales. In this paper, we deconstruct the PSES model to explore the nexus between this innovative public-private-civic integration and its implications for energy governance. We analyze the impact of two key elements of this model that operate in tandem: (1) enhancing local livelihood outcomes to ensure long-term sustainability and payback of these decentralized renewable mini-grids (2) forging new institutions and/or new relationships between existing institutions. Our results have implications for understanding the re-shaping of energy governance across, local, regional, national and global scales.