Knowledge – a distant beacon or the motor that drives the climate transition?

When discussing the transition to a more climate-friendly society, different groups attach different meanings to the concept of knowledge. This has been shown by researchers at Linköping University, who have studied the role given to knowledge in literature about the shift to fossil-free and climate-secure cities.

Reaching for the star

As the climate changes, society must adapt to the expected effects. Transition processes are described in the literature, but the descriptions of how they could take place differ. However, common to much of the literature is that the city is seen as the starting point in how the transition could proceed.

The researchers at Linköping University felt they had spotted a gap in the climate transition literature: there was no review of the role of knowledge. It’s important to be clear when talking about knowledge, because knowledge is so important when cities are trying to adapt to climate change.

“In the transition of cities, knowledge acquires very different roles, as is shown in our systematic review of the literature. For the people who use the literature, such as coordinators in local and regional government and in the private sector, as well as researchers, this is important to know. It means that everyone can have more realistic expectations of what the research can contribute, and can see more ways in which it can contribute”, says Mattias Hjerpe, senior lecturer and researcher in the climate transition of cities at Linköping University’s Department of Thematic Studies – Environmental Change.

In a scientific article published in Current Opinion on Environmental Sustainability, Mattias Hjerpe and LiU colleagues Erik Glaas and Paul Fenton show the significance given to knowledge in various types of literature on the transition to fossil-free and climate-secure cities.

The results show that knowledge has five different roles in the various types of literature:

• As a motor that drives the transition process, i.e. researchers organise the process, and contribute the knowledge that pushes the process forward.
• As a consultant who supplies materials for use in transition decision-making, commissioned by the decision-makers.
• As an emancipator who kick-starts the transition, i.e. knowledge that another system is possible.
• As a beacon that guides transition, i.e. a research-based principle for how society should be organised.
• As an ad hoc committee that motivates transition, i.e. that researchers who happen to be nearby are part of legitimising the process.

By differentiating between different types of knowledge regarding transition, the researchers hope to facilitate future research analyses, among other things.
“For instance one can make it easier for local government to specify how the research and researchers should be involved in their town’s transition process,” says Mattias Hjerpe.

The role of knowledge in climate transition and transformation literatures. Hjerpe, M, Glaas, E and Fenton, P. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability 2017, 29:26–31

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