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Edited by James Meadowcroft, David Banister, Erling Holden, Oluf Langhelle, Kristin Linnerud and Geoffrey Gilpin

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What Next for Sustainable Development?

Our Common Future at Thirty

Edited by James Meadowcroft, David Banister, Erling Holden, Oluf Langhelle, Kristin Linnerud and Geoffrey Gilpin

This book examines the international experience with sustainable development since the concept was brought to world-wide attention in Our Common Future, the 1987 report of the World Commission on Environment and Development. Scholars from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds engage with three critical themes: negotiating environmental limits; equity, environment and development; and transitions and transformations. In light of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals recently adopted by the United Nations General Assembly, they ask what lies ahead for sustainable development.
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Ethan B. Davis and Kirby E. Calvert

Leading alternatives to fossil-fueled transportation include biofuels, electric/hybrid electric vehicles, hydrogen fuel cells and compressed natural gas. These alternatives must be evaluated not just in terms of thermodynamics and economics, but also criteria related to the environment and society. Furthermore, the suitability of different energy carriers is impacted by the requirements of each transportation mode. Indeed, the transportation sector presents challenges to a sustainability transition that are different in kind and degree from the heat and electricity sectors. The chapter reviews work in geography and related disciplines that have studied alternative transport systems. A meta-analysis is provided of environmental and economic performance across the alternatives as they relate to different forms and expectations of mobility. The chapter discusses ways in which the suitability and implications of different alternative fuels vary according to regional differences, as well as ways in which the implementation of alternative fuels is implicated in land use issues and planning.

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Max D. Woodworth

Coal has been used for millennia and was the key fuel in powering the Industrial Revolution. The chapter situates this indispensable resource within the social geographies of its exploration, production, consumption and mitigation. Key to coal’s central role in modern industrialism is its wide geographical distribution and high energy density, making it accessible and economical to large and important markets. Coal production is carried out through both labor-intensive and capital-intensive means. Coal consumption in today’s industrialized countries has remained flat since the mid twentieth century, while consumption has surged in Asia and especially in China, currently the largest producer and consumer of this resource. Today, recognition of coal’s contributions to atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations is motivating a turn away from it in some countries, though its low cost means that it may remain the fuel of choice in parts of the developing world. Short case studies on the coal situation in China and the United States, the world’s two largest users, are discussed.

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Mauricio T. Tolmasquim and Angela Livino

Brazil relies on renewable energy sources such as hydroelectricity and biofuels for 41 percent of its energy consumption. Large oil and natural gas reserves have been discovered in its continental shelf. Consequently, the conditions in Brazil are ripe for maintaining a clean energy matrix and becoming an oil exporter. This situation, seemingly paradoxical, is explained by the country’s overall richness in energy resources, which enables Brazil to maintain high use of renewable energy sources in both transportation and electric power generation, even with ample oil supplies available. The chapter analyses the country’s energy consumption pattern and main energy sources, their application in the long run based on the historical and geographic characteristics that make the energy matrix a strategic advantage, but one that brings with it important challenges for the country.

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Kirby E. Calvert, Jamie D. Stephen, M. Jean Blair, Laura Cabral, Ryan E. Baxter and Warren E. Mabee

The chapter reviews the changing geographies of biorefining from the perspective of environmental economic geography (EEG). The EEG lens attends to the economy-environment interface when studying technological innovations. First, the authors review the global production and trade of advanced biofuels. Second, they provide an overview of the geographical implications of ‘advanced biorefining’, with emphasis on changing land-use patterns and the spatial reconfigurations to energy and biomass supply chains at local scales. Various resource-technology-policy configurations are described in order to highlight interdependencies that shape technology implementation and the impacts of biorefining. These include the biomass to energy platform, the biochemical platform, the thermochemical platform and the lipid platform. This chapter relies upon data and analysis in Canada, but also uses examples from other jurisdictions. The aim is to situate bioenergy and biofuels within the broad constellation of resources and technologies that might contribute to a sustainable energy future, and to discuss ‘biofuels’ in the context of a broader ‘bioeconomy’.

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Warren E. Mabee, Laura Cabral and Emma Webb

Over the past two decades, the United States and Canada have seen a dramatic shift in the way that energy is produced. Improved shale gas and oil extraction technologies have opened up large reserves previously thought unavailable, and production output from these reserves has changed the dynamics of petroleum markets in North America and beyond. Distribution of these fuels has been challenged by increasing awareness of the impacts that pipelines can have on local environments. Concomitantly, massive investment in renewable energy technologies has led to significant growth in more sustainable energy outputs, and electrification trends in personal transport and heating are now discernable. In recent years, carbon pricing has been introduced and low carbon fuel standards enacted in multiple jurisdictions across North America, which has impacted the use of some fuels and which will likely guide future use. The chapter reviews these trends and updates the current situation in North America.

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Stephen M. McCauley and Jennie C. Stephens

Electricity systems worldwide are in the midst of major changes as renewable energy expands and related infrastructures and governance regimes adapt toward a post-fossil fuel future. At the same time, human societies are becoming increasingly dependent on electricity as more basic societal functions are electrified. As this energy transition progresses, energy geographies are reconfigured, as technologies, infrastructures, institutions and cultural practices shift to accommodate new norms of energy production and consumption. The emerging landscape of renewable power is more distributed, decentralized and heterogeneous compared to the highly centralized production and transmission of electricity in the fossil fuel era. The authors explore the implications of this shift for opportunities for publics to participate meaningfully in and share benefits from the electricity sector. Using a comparative framework, they suggest that a shift to renewable electricity could create societal opportunities for participation and control.

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Sven Stremke and Paolo Picchi

The chapter begins with a literature review of energy potential mapping, ecosystem services (ES) assessment and participatory mapping (PM). PM is a key technique to conduct tradeoff analysis while co-designing sustainable energy landscapes (SEL) with local communities. Stakeholders, among others, participate in the mapping of ‘hot spots’. Geographic Information System software can be used to analyse the existing landscape and renewable energy potentials as well as to process stakeholder values and preferences with regard to landscape quality/ES supply, and renewable energy technologies, respectively. The chapter introduces a framework for co-designing a SEL with special attention to the use of PM and ES, and discusses key opportunities and challenges associated with the approach. In particular, mutual benefits emerge once the domains of ES and renewable energy are approached in a concerted manner. The chapter illustrates that co-designing energy landscapes together with stakeholders can help to better understand and manage tradeoffs between ES.

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Nichole Dusyk

As a practice, community energy includes a diverse range of participants, objectives, organizational structures, processes and outcomes. In general community energy can be characterized by a civic and grassroots orientation. This makes it a promising approach for increasing citizen engagement; recognizing and building on place-based interests, histories and identities; and enacting social change. At the same time, a grassroots orientation presents challenges relating to the practicalities of intervening in complex technical and regulatory environments, specifically the knowledge and resources required to do so effectively. Support mechanisms need to be designed to respect the diversity of community energy initiatives and encourage communities to promote the voices and values of their members. Moreover, it is critical that community energy not be overly simplified or generalized. Researchers need to keep the diverse, political and dynamic nature of community energy in sight in order to guard against the spatial and normative baggage of the term ‘community’.