Identifying social determinants of urban low carbon transitions: the case of energy transition in Bilbao, Basque Country
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Cities are widely defined as complex systems formed by coupled social, ecological and economical systems. The complexity of urban dynamics goes far beyond its boundaries due to the strong influence of larger scales and the deep dependence of cities on outside resources. Such crucial cross-scale effects can fuel maladaptive behaviour, conducting cities to rigid and unsustainable traps. Urban energy systems have all the ingredients of complexity, dependence and vulnerability to global environmental change. Presumably, transformability, like adaptability, depends on perceptions, values and culture of each society. Here it is hypothesized that often social behaviours related to the scepticism, close-minded attitudes, traditional economic models, lack of trust in institutions and in self-capacities are those which limit the potential of transformation in cities (favouring lock-in status). The type of energy and the way it is supplied depends largely on utilities, urban planning and design, economic incentives, regulations, investment opportunities etc. These determinants, together with household factors depending on lifestyle, rent, etc. affect the level of consumption and choices. Altogether, these determinants play a decisive role in decision making processes at individual and institutional level and therefore can limit the transformation potential. We use a case study in Bilbao (Basque Country) to illustrate barriers and hidden opportunities of a local energy transition through an analysis of its cognitive dimension. This is done by applying a semi-quantitative methodology (Q method) which aids to investigate the stakeholdersâ€™ perceived capacity of change. This results in four distinct discourses with direct implications in the potential of transformation of the city of Bilbao.