Catalysing and Characterising Transition EPA Research Report 287

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This synthesis report presents the main findings from a desk study on Catalysing and Characterising Transition (CCTransitions), which was funded by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The project had the aims of providing a review of theoretical concepts that inform how we understand sustainability transitions, reviewing a number of international case studies of such sustainability transitions and examining how specific technologies have been promoted to facilitate transition. The project also sought to look at examples of how transition in Ireland could be benchmarked against other international examples and to provide a wider analytical framework for applying these ideas in an Irish context. The report summarises the findings of each of these objectives and how they were achieved via a desk study supported by interviews and two project workshops. The report begins by reviewing the idea of transition, highlighting its origins in science and technology studies and outlining four broad perspectives on transition: the multi-level perspective, transition management, strategic niche management and technological innovation systems. Each of these perspectives provides a unique way of understanding the different challenges involved in mobilising the far-reaching transformation in society needed to overcome the persistent problems of un-sustainability. A common principle here is that desirable societal change cannot be defined primarily on the basis of a definable end state, but should be regarded as primarily a process of redirecting and steering a wide range of elements (markets, energy technologies infrastructure, governance, individual behaviour, collective action) towards a more sustainable configuration. Following this, the report examines the energy transition experiences of the Netherlands, Sweden, the UK, Germany, Denmark, Norway and New Zealand.

The key dimensions of the transition experience in each country are reviewed, highlighting for each country the broader landscape forces, dominant actors and scope of niche innovation. This demonstrates the possibility of diverse pathways towards transition, depending on the structural conditions, vision and actors involved. The report also seeks to draw some general insights from these international experiences, noting the complexity of forces, agents and scales that can act as drivers for or barriers to a country’s transition. In particular, the benefits of a strong and widely shared sustainability vision and the way in which incumbent, vested interests can frustrate progress are noted. The report also reviews the drivers for and challenges to the deployment of three technologies that have been considered to be relevant to the Irish energy transition (namely bioenergy, biofuels and electric vehicles) in other European settings, identifying key points for consideration in an Irish setting. The context of the Irish energy system is then described, using the concepts of landscape, regime and niche from the multi-level perspective to typify the interdependencies, challenges and opportunities for transition. A further section of the report reviews the challenges to benchmarking the Irish transition against other countries’ progress and critically develops suggestions for what could be usefully done in an Irish context. Finally, the report seeks to synthesise the findings of the project and makes recommendations for how the perspective of transitions can be operationalised in an Irish context, with an emphasis on enhancing the Irish national capacity for transition research, and initiating a national transition management process.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherEnvironmental Protection Agency
Commissioning bodyEnvironmental Protection Agency
Number of pages50
ISBN (Electronic)978-1-84095-852-2
Publication statusPublished - 30 Sept 2019

Publication series

NameEPA Research Reports
PublisherIreland Environmental Protection Agency


  • Transition
  • Sustainability
  • Ireland

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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