Planning in and for a Post-Growth and Post-Carbon Economy

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* Article: Planning in and for a post-growth and post-carbon economy. By John Barry. Chapter of the book: Routledge Companion to Environmental Planning and Sustainability, 2019


Contextual Citation

"Planning in the 21st century should be oriented around the following: how to design urban forms that produce high levels of human wellbeing and flourishing while using less energy and resources and where growth is a potential by-product, not the goal of planning. And the reality is the sooner policies change to prepare communities, cities and our built ‘commons’ for a decarbonised and post-growth future, the more effective (and cheaper) that transition will be. After all, it is wise to fix the roof when it is sunny, not when it is raining."


This chapter examines "some features of ‘post-growth’ and ‘post-carbon’ planning. These include the central role of planning in any ‘just transition’ to a low carbon economy; the place of a more proactive state in that planning process; and the integration of social justice ‘floors’ and ecological ‘ceilings’ into any post-carbon, post-growth planning. The chapter concludes that we need new imaginaries and objectives for planning in the 21st century, for conditions very different from those of post-war and late 20th century. We need to replace economic growth with notions of prosperity and ideas of planning creating prosperous and flourishing communities where high quality of life is decoupled not just from high carbon use, resource intensity and pollution but also simplistic and out of date objectives of ‘economic growth’."


Planning for a just transition: social justice floors and ecological ceilings

John Barry:

"The term ‘just transition’ has emerged in recent years to conjoin social justice – more specifically, the equitable distribution of the benefits and costs of the transition away from high carbon and unsustainable development trajectories – with the environmental, climate, resource and energy reasons for that transition. Whereas the latter are largely biophysical limits, ceilings or ‘planetary boundaries’ (Rockström et al., 2009) within which human development is sustainable, the for-mer represent the ‘social floors’ below which individuals and communities are not allowed to fall in terms of livelihoods, flourishing, human rights and basic standards of living ( Raworth, 2018 ). This is what Kate Raworth terms the ‘Safe and Just Space for Humanity’ (Raworth, 2012), and it captures the context of planning in the 21st century, i.e. our climate changed, carbon constrained world. A key feature of the ‘just transition’ approach to decarbonisation, climate change and sustain-ability transitions is the recognition that it is possible to have ‘unjust’ sustainability transitions. On the one hand, this is a possibility if one focuses narrowly on the environmental/ecological aspects (to the neglect of social dimensions, such as justice and equity concerns or procedural issues of democratic decision making for example). On the other hand, unjust transitions are also possible if one narrowly reduces sustainability transitions to ‘greening’ the status quo."

A new role for the state ?

"The climate crisis and the need for greater ‘carbon control and management’ has, and can, provide opportunities and obligations for the state to become ‘greener’ by becoming more interventionist (and possibly more creative and more democratic) as it steers, coordinates or directly manages society-wide sustainability, energy and economic socio-technical transitions ( Ellis et al., 2018 ). As While et al. note, the climate crisis has enabled a new state-centred and ‘distinctive political economy associated with climate mitigation in which discourses of climate change both open up, and necessitate an extension of, state intervention in the spheres of production and consumption’ ( While et al., 2010 , p. 82, emphasis added). Such ‘policy or governance opportunity structures’ that moments of crises present for state reconfiguration, obviously also provide opportunities for the rethinking and reconfiguration of urban planning. These range, inter alia, from the long overdue integration of spatial and energy planning ( Stoeglehner et al., 2016 ), viewing ‘war time mobilisation’ as a model for rapid decarbonisation ( Delina, 2016 ) – an explicit commitment by planning to move beyond technological innovation to provide policy support and space for social experiments in new low carbon and post-growth forms of living – to seeing how addressing the carbon and climate crisis can open up planning to more democratic and democratised institutionalised forms. And democratised planning is understood explicitly not as consensus creation and agreement but seeing planning decision making as recognising and welcoming and indeed encouraging agonistic contestation and debate ( Barry and Ellis, 2010 ). While obvious, it is worth highlighting that this direction of travel for ‘just transition’ plan-ning requires the (re)-politicisation of planning as a necessary precondition for its democra-tisation, and a decisive movement away from a ‘top-down’ and technocratic, expert-driven conceptualisation of planning. And of course, recognising that the responsibility for envisioning and implementing any post-carbon, post-growth just transition is not the responsibility of the planning system alone, but it does have a vital role, not least as a key dimension of ‘bringing the state back in’ as a necessary (if insufficient) institutional component in navigating our pathways to sustainable socio-technical futures in the coming century."