European regions heavily dependent on coal or carbon intensive industries are facing structural change. The transformation can only succeed with the support of the population.
European regions heavily dependent on coal or carbon intensive industries are facing structural change. The transformation can only succeed with the support of the population. Adobe Stock/maresaStocksy

Headline: Identifying positive tipping points towards clean energy transitions in carbon intensive regions (Tipping+)


If Europe is to reach its 2030 and 2050 climate targets, it will need to fully decarbonise its energy and industrial sectors. This may have serious effects on the economies and social structures of affected regions, and especially those regions whose economies depend strongly on single coal- or carbon-intensive sectors. In these areas, the transition to a climate-friendly future may be a direct threat to livelihoods and the social and economic survival of affected populations. In the TIPPING+ project, the researchers investigate how coal- and carbon-intensive regions could be transformed without triggering social or economic decline.

While this transition is the subject of intense debate at the European and national level, it is in the regions and cities that it will unfold and where its effects will be most strongly felt. Ensuring that the transition is vital to securing long-term acceptance across society and will help to reduce societal friction and speed its progress. In TIPPING+, a team of researchers is working to gain a better understanding of transition processes on the regional level and applying the concept of Social-Ecological Tipping Points to investigate the role of regions in securing successful transitions. Previously research has focused on biophysical tipping points with the aim of better understanding when critical thresholds of change in one or several components of Earth's biophysical systems can lead to a major irreversible change in the state of that system. A social science perspective on this concept is currently lacking. To fill this gap, this project will investigate which kinds of tipping interventions could generate fast systemic transformations towards positive futures. The purpose of this project is to determine:

  • Why and when do coal- and carbon-intensive regions flip into fundamentally different development trajectories and embrace a low carbon future?
  • What are the effects of such fundamental changes on the livelihoods and the sustainability of regional economies and social-ecological systems?
  • Why are such transitions sometimes successful, pushing regions onto low-carbon, economically and socially prosperous paths, yet unsuccessful in other cases?

In the Tipping+ project, researchers focus on the driving forces and deliberate interventions that foster the emergence of positive tipping points towards zero-carbon energy and industrial activity in current coal- and carbon-intensive regions in Europe. IASS is part of a consortium of 17 international organisations that will investigate Social-Ecological Tipping Points from a theoretical and empirical perspective, gathering insights from over 20 regional case studies. The research will shed light on decisive events and processes, but also help to prevent undesirable outcomes such as economic and social decline, or the rise of populism and anti-democratic attitudes. The findings will be published in academic papers but also distributed to multi-level policymakers and stakeholders in European regions with the aim of driving policy design that will trigger positive Social-Ecological Tipping Points.

This project has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 884565.