Energy Ethics 2021

Energy Transitions & Planetary Futures

October 25 – October 27

About the Event

Energy demand is growing, while urgent calls to reduce and mitigate the environmental impact of carbon emissions are intensifying. Transitioning our societies to low-carbon economies seems both inevitable and essential to planetary survival. In the lead-up to COP26, the Centre for Energy Ethics is hosting a virtual conference to reflect carefully and critically on envisioned energy transitions and what they might entail. Bringing together researchers across the arts, humanities, social and natural sciences, we ask: what visions of society and planetary futures are being put forth by ‘energy transitions’ around the world? What will their implications be? And how will they be realised?

Call for Abstracts, Deadline 30 July 2021

At a time of growing demand for energy and rising concerns about reducing and mitigating the environmental impact of global carbon emissions, transitions to low-carbon energy economies seem both inevitable and essential. “Energy Transitions” have been adopted as an official policy of numerous governments and a global imperative in the fight against anthropogenic climate change. In official pledges and commitments to ‘Net Zero’, energy transitions have captured the imagination of a postcarbon future. This conference calls for analytical and critical attention to the ways in which energy transitions are mobilised around the world. We ask: What visions of society and planetary futures are being put forth by ‘energy transitions’ around the world? What is a ‘just’ transition, and for whom? What hopes and fears animate discourses, practices and models of energy transitions? How are energy transitions claimed as environmental, social, cultural, personal, ethical or political projects? What challenges and possibilities do they present? Are conflicting visions of energy futures reconcilable? How can different forms and ways of life co-exist in these transitions? What kind of energy should fuel our world, and what kind of world do we want to fuel? Read more

Rather than taking the aims and means of energy transitions for granted, this conference brings together researchers across the arts, humanities, social and natural sciences to invite critical engagement with and reflection on the social, cultural, economic and political complexity and diversity of energy futures around the world

We are seeking abstracts for 15-min papers that engage with the question of energy transitions by responding to the themes and prompts below. Please identify one theme that your paper would align with, and submit your abstract (250 words max) via this portal before the 30th of July 2021 at 23:59 BST. Notification of acceptance will be given by the 10th of August.

Theme 1. EMERGENCY [Time, Urgency, Crisis; Rupture]  

Climate emergencies have been declared by governments, cities, organisations and communities around the world. What are the temporalities of climate emergencies and energy transitions? What discourses and practices of energy transitions operate within particular conceptions of political and planetary time?  

Theme 2. PROSPERITY [Stability, Security, Growth, the Good Life]

The climate crisis presents a unique opportunity to rethink global prosperity and redistributive mechanisms. What notions of well-being animate calls for energy transitions? What vision of the ‘common good’ and the ‘good life’ do they proffer? What is perceived as valuable, worth investing in or not?

Theme 3. VULNERABILITY [Fears, Fragility, Loss, Collapse, Extinction]

Climate change is a global issue, yet its impacts are differentially felt and distributed. What vulnerabilities are at stake in the face of transition imperatives? How do they work to unite or divide us? What are the demands and expectations, the sacrifices, changes and compromises that these imperatives suggest?  

Theme 4. FAIRNESS [Justice, Diversity, Inclusivity, Responsibility, Liability]


Calls for climate justice resound across academic, activist and political spheres, in parallel with endorsements of a "fair" and "just" transition. How do energy transitions reconfigure geographies of extraction, access and inequity?  What forms of responsibility emerge in discussions, meetings and international agreements around climate change and energy futures?


Theme 5. CO-EXISTENCE [Conflict, Friction, Harmony, Mutuality]

Practices and visions of energy transitions are multiple, and do not always align. What frictions and harmonies are at stake here? Are different visions of society, the human and non-human, and energy fundamentally opposed? At what scale do transitions occur? How can different forms and ways of life co-exist?

Theme 6. INNOVATION [Creativity, Technology, Change] 

‘Transitioning’ away from certain energy sources towards others comes with technical and social challenges. What material and ethical dilemmas, contradictions and achievements might emerge in the global search for more efficient, low-carbon, cleaner technologies? How do optimism and creativity figure in response to these dilemmas? 

Conference Programme

The Conference will include an exciting range of keynotes, roundtables, and research papers, as well as a virtual exhibition area featuring creative projects, research groups, COP 26 fringe events, and more. Details to follow.


Prof Kim Fortun

Dr Dana Powell

Centre for Energy Ethics

Launched on 25 February 2021, the Centre for Energy Ethics is a brand new interdisciplinary and innovative research centre directed by Dr Mette High and based at the University of St Andrews. Involving researchers from across the University, the CEE tackles one of the most urgent and profound challenges facing humanity today: how to balance our energy demands with our concerns for anthropogenic climate change. Bringing together diverse areas of expertise, including researchers, industry, and communities, we embrace our responsibility as scholars to address and collectively answer big societal questions about how to create a better energy future for us all.


This Conference is generously funded by the European Research Council and the Scottish Funding Council