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09.2 Rural areas in a decarbonizing society: identifying barriers and solutions for just, accepted energy transition and sustainable rural development

Thursday, June 29, 2023
9:00 - 10:30


Dr. Mareike Pampus
Martin Luther University Halle-wittenberg

Governing the Invisible: Land Acquisition for Solar Projects in Brandenburg (Eastern Germany)


A new conflict in the energy transition is emerging as mega-parks for solar cells are being built on arable land. Concerning solar power, Germany does not have a plan for a sustainable solar economy and hardly any guidelines, instead the market rules. This results in the fact that brokers and investors are looking for lucrative places especially in the remote regions of eastern Germany. Through an ethnographic approach, this paper investigates the rush for the largest possible areas for solar projects in the context of Germany’s energy politics. We explore what we call an “invisible rush for land” using critical land grabbing theory as a background. As an umbrella term land grabbing has dealt with farmland and the food sector as well as with “green grabs” for renewable energy production and issues of biodiversity conservation. With the example of large scale PV projects on agricultural land, we bring these bodies of literature into fruitful conversation in order to demonstrate how PV projects are embedded in local decision making and communal politics, yet framed by a much larger ‘rush for land’, financial investments and regional value creation.
Dr. Marianna Markantoni
Research Fellow
Maastricht University

In need of intermediation in rural places? The role of 'in-betweeners' in goal achievements of rural energy citizen's initiatives.


Achieving a zero carbon energy future is hardly conceivable without the active role of citizens and their support networks. Since predominantly renewable energy projects are located in rural locations, the role and impact of civic engagement in rural villages is of crucial importance taking into consideration issues of justice, equity and inclusivity. Therein, the work of intermediaries in enabling energy citizenship remains largely underappreciated. Research into the factors of successes and failures of intermediary work in rural locations helps to further understand the conditions that shape the active involvement of citizens in energy transition. The paper applies a ‘relational’ lens to the study of intermediaries, highlighting both the networks that already exist and the relations that intermediaries are part of. This is based on the work of Doreen Massey that conceptualises space as relational, constituted through social and material relations. A relational perspective highlights how the networked nature of intermediaries produces ‘geographies of connection, dependency and control’. Our study is based on an in-depth investigation of rural energy citizenship initiatives across Europe (as part of the H2020 EnergyPROSPECTS project, 2021-2024). Preliminary findings highlight the need for various types of intermediation in rural energy citizen's initiatives. The paper contributes to a more detailed description of intermediaries as in-between actors, shedding light on intermediary relationships that are less visible especially in rural locations. Their role was found to be instrumental for many citizen’s initiatives in achieving their goals and in contributing to a more fair and sustainable energy production, consumption and governance.
Dr. Mathilde Gingembre
ESPOL | Catholic University of Lille

Just Transitions For European Rural Spaces: An Uncertain Policy Landscape


This paper presents the preliminary findings of a multisited ethnography research into the principle of “just transitions” and its conceptualisation within European policy spaces. The research it discusses is part of Just Scapes, a transdisciplinary project in which researchers from four European universities have come together to explore the transformations of rural Europe in the context of climate action, from an environmental justice perspective. Drawing on an action research methodology and on three case studies (Czech Republic, France, and Scotland), Just Scapes asks rural dwellers with different backgrounds, views and livelihoods how we can build futures that are both sustainable and fair in Europe’s rural territories. The paper presented in this panel will zoom in on the policy angle of the research. Exploring policy processes around tree-planting and carbon sequestration, it asks whether European decision-makers debate the justice dimensions of climate action and how. In particular, it asks whether the land-based nature of most climate action, and its justice implications for rural territories, is explicitly considered in efforts to organise the climate transition. Drawing on interviews with government officials in France, Scotland and the Czech Republic, the paper highlights the uncertainties that characterise the policy landscape underpinning energy and climate transitions and points to the implications that these conceptual gaps may have for European ruralities, from an environmental justice perspective.
Dr. David Brown
Senior Research Associate
University of East Anglia

Conceptualising rural environmental justice in Europe in an age of climate-influenced landscape transformations


Driven by net zero commitments and other environmental policies, major landscape shifts and land-use changes are set to take place in rural Europe, notably related to large-scale afforestation, conservation and rewilding programs, carbon sequestration and livestock reduction. The potentially profound repurposing of rural landscapes in the face of climate change has significant implications for local livelihoods, identities and senses of place. The proposed land-use changes may be unequally experienced by local populations, may not be seen as legitimate or fair and thus may be resisted by rural populations, leading to what we suggest are ‘justice barriers’ to effective sustainable transformations and climate change mitigation targets. This paper draws from the ‘Just Scapes’ project which seeks to advance our understanding of the meanings and practices of ‘just transformations’ in European rural landscapes in response to climate change. Adopting an empirical environmental justice approach, this paper explores how rural citizens and communities in Europe perceive the (in) justices arising from potential climate-influenced land-use transformations through a comparative analysis of three case study landscapes: Scotland, France and the Czech Republic. Responding to gaps in the existing literature base, we investigate the contested narratives and embedded justice claims across these landscapes through the lens of rural environmental justice (Pellow, 2016). The paper compares experiences and forms of environmental (in)justice across three distinct rural European sites, specifically as they relate to landscape transformations and climate and environmental policy drivers, and conceptualises the particularities of rural environmental justice in a European context.

Session host

Alexandra Doernberg
Leibniz Center For Agricultural Landscape Research

Eva Eichenauer
Brandenburg University of Technology



Contact for questions about abstracts or registration: groningen@congressbydesign.com 

Contact for questions about the content of the programme: ruralgeo2023@rug.nl