Material politics and the political economy of decarbonizing emissions intensive industries

Authors: Mark Cooper*, University of California - Davis
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Economic Geography, Environment
Keywords: climate change mitigation, decarbonization, innovation, steel, plastics, livestock
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/13/2018
Start / End Time: 10:00 AM / 11:40 AM
Room: Grand Ballroom D, Sheraton, 5th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The Paris Agreement states that parties aim to “undertake rapid reductions” to achieve zero net emissions in the second half of this century. Progress toward this aim requires moving beyond the energy and transport sectors and achieving decarbonisation transitions in emissions-intensive industries such as steel, plastics, and meat/dairy. Achieving mitigation in emissions-intensive industries, however, is often regarded as particularly challenging for a number of reasons, including the distinctiveness of these industries’ product chains and the existence of close ties between these industries and the economic interests of the state. In addition to these traditional political economy issues, the material qualities of the resources and commodities that flow through emissions-intensive product chains play a significant role shaping the extent to which forms of net-zero emissions economy are viable. The steel, plastics, and meat/dairy industries are each characterized by: the inflexible material properties within their production processes, a lack of readily deployable low-cost mitigation technologies, and the unsuitability of substitution by alternative products. This paper takes a material politics perspective to analyze the complexity and potential for decarbonizing emissions-intensive industries. This perspective considers the materiality of emissions intensive industries as emergent properties of particular socio-technical configurations and directs attention to the role of materiality in stabilizing particular sectoral configurations and enabling decarbonization transitions.

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