The concept of “pathways” has increasingly come to frame the challenge of transitioning to low-carbon societies. It also shows promise as a bridging concept, encouraging constructive dialogue among the diverse perspectives and constituencies evoking its use. However, its interpretations and attributes are rarely explicit and have yet to be subject to serious scrutiny. This raises important questions for both theory and governance as the way in which a problem is framed shapes how it is understood and addressed, structuring the possibilities considered and privileging certain responses. Therefore, this study explores the concept of pathways in the context of low-carbon transitions, exposing its conceptions, maturation, and implications. Based on a survey of the relevant climate change mitigation literature, this analysis uncovers three core conceptions of pathways in the context of low-carbon transitions: (1) biophysical, (2) techno-economic, and (3) socio-technical. Constituted by diverse perspectives and approaches, each of these three core conceptions emphasize different yet interconnected dimensions of the decarbonization challenge. This analysis also points to several key attributes and functions of the concept of pathways. Yet, while the concept may possess a variety of features that recommend its use as a critical problem frame for low-carbon transitions, it also raises issues that suggest a need for further reflexivity. If the concept is cast too strongly in terms of individual core conceptions, there may be a tendency to emphasize certain dynamics while paying somewhat less attention to others, inadvertently diminishing the complexity of the decarbonization challenge. Beyond this, there are other facets of the concept that have to date received more limited attention, including the implications of choices at critical junctures and the evolving character of social practices. So, there is room for the concept of pathways to engage more fully with the range of complexities embodied by low-carbon transitions.

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Keywords Climate change mitigation, Decarbonization, Low-carbon, Pathways, Transformations, Transitions
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Journal Global Environmental Change
Rosenbloom, D. (Daniel). (2017). Pathways: An emerging concept for the theory and governance of low-carbon transitions. Global Environmental Change, 43, 37–50. doi:10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2016.12.011