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REPORT: Energy Pathways in Low Carbon Development: from Technology Transfer to Socio-technical Transformation

Access to modern energy services is a critical human development priority and can be transformative to the livelihoods of poor people and their economic potential. A tension is sometimes perceived between increasing energy access and pursuing low carbon development. High carbon, conventional energy options are often viewed as cheaper and hence easier for poor countries to pursue thereby problematising the idea of “pro-poor, low carbon development”. Nevertheless, the way in which energy services are realised have great potential for health, environment, wealth, and social relations. International climate change negotiations place an emphasis on low-carbon technology transfer, which perpetuates a long history of expectations about technology providing solutions to energy and development challenges.

This paper, Energy Pathways in Low Carbon Development: from Technology Transfer to Socio-technical Transformation, questions how much the dominant ‘hardware and finance’ framing will help communities explore and develop low-carbon pathways that meet their needs.  Drawing upon the history of technology transfer, and discussing the record of the Clean Development Mechanism, this paper suggests that a much broader and ambitions approach to energy and development is needed and puts forward a ‘socio-technical transformation’ framework for organising low carbon energy initiatives in development. The paper utilises a pathways approach to understanding the challenges of energy and development; an approach being developed by the STEPS Centre at the University of Sussex. Having argued for a broader and more plural perspective, the paper concludes by suggesting a research agenda for testing its potential.

The paper is part of the CDKN-funded project, Pro-poor, low carbon development: Improving low carbon energy access and development benefits in Least Developed Countries, which aims to enrich understanding on the relative successful adoption of Solar Home Systems in Kenya to inform the design of Climate Innovation Centres and policy initiatives that facilitate the transfer and uptake of low carbon technologies in Kenya and other Least Developed Countries (LDCs). The project aims to identify ways in which low carbon technologies can benefit poor people by improving access to modern energy services.

Further reading:

Project homepage: Pro-poor, low carbon development: Improving low carbon energy access and development benefits in Least Developed Countries

Briefing paper: Energy Pathways in Low-Carbon Development: Briefing from STEPS Working Paper 46

Briefing paper: The political economy of low carbon energy in Kenya

Briefing paper: Low carbon energy and development in low-income countries: Policy lessons from a study of the off-grid photovoltaics sector in Kenya

Report: Sustainable energy for whom? Governing pro-poor, low carbon pathways to development: Lessons from solar PV in Kenya

For more information, please go to the STEPS Centre website on low carbon development.