Covid-19 and the politics of sustainable energy transitions
Introductory text in journal, 2020

In this perspectives piece, an interdisciplinary team of social science researchers considers the implications of Covid-19 for the politics of sustainable energy transitions. The emergency measures adopted by states, firms, and individuals in response to this global health crisis have driven a series of political, economic and social changes with potential to influence sustainable energy transitions. We identify some of the initial impacts of the ‘great lockdown’ on sustainable and fossil sources of energy, and consider how economic stimulus packages and social practices in the wake of the pandemic are likely to shape energy demand, the carbon-intensity of the energy system, and the speed of transitions. Adopting a broad multi-scalar and multi-actor approach to the analysis of energy system change, we highlight continuities and discontinuities with pre-pandemic trends. Discussion focuses on four key themes that shape the politics of sustainable energy transitions: (i) the short, medium and long-term temporalities of energy system change; (ii) practices of investment around clean-tech and divestment from fossil fuels; (iii) structures and scales of energy governance; and (iv) social practices around mobility, work and public health. While the effects of the pandemic continue to unfold, some of its sectoral and geographically differentiated impacts are already emerging. We conclude that the politics of sustainable energy transitions are now at a critical juncture, in which the form and direction of state support for post-pandemic economic recovery will be key.

Social practices

Sustainable energy transition




Fossil fuels


Caroline Kuzemko

The University of Warwick

Michael Bradshaw

Warwick Business School

Gavin Bridge

Durham University

Andreas Goldthau

Universität Erfurt

Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS)

Jessica Jewell

University of Bergen

International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis

Chalmers, Space, Earth and Environment, Physical Resource Theory

Indra Overland

Norsk Utenrikspolitisk Institutt

Daniel Scholten

Delft University of Technology

Thijs Van de Graaf

Ghent university

Kirsten Westphal

Stiftung Wissenschaft & Politik

Energy Research and Social Science

2214-6296 (eISSN)

Vol. 68 101685

Subject Categories

Social Sciences Interdisciplinary

Other Environmental Engineering

Energy Systems



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