Transition pathways have attracted increasing interest as a useful analytical lens through which to capture the interlocking processes, patterns, and directions that might constitute substantial movement toward sustainability. While recent research has elaborated the political character of pathways, there is still room to further scrutinize the role of critical choices and branching points in defining diverging pathways. Contributing to the growing body of research on pathways, this study develops an approach that: (1) elaborates the dynamics that open branching points and (2) illustrates how critical choices help define the direction taken at these openings, giving rise to diverging decarbonization pathways. As part of this, the contested nature of critical choices is examined, revealing how actors struggle to shape possible trajectories. This approach is demonstrated by exploring unfolding low-carbon pathways in Canadian electricity systems, drawing lessons for the practice and theory of pathways. In particular, findings indicate that attending to branching points more explicitly exposes the implications and trade-offs embodied within choices by linking near-term decisions to long-run low-carbon configurations.

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Keywords Branching points, Climate change mitigation, Critical choices, Pathways, Socio-technical transitions
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Journal Energy Research and Social Science
Rosenbloom, D. (Daniel), Haley, B. (Brendan), & Meadowcroft, J. (2018). Critical choices and the politics of decarbonization pathways: Exploring branching points surrounding low-carbon transitions in Canadian electricity systems. Energy Research and Social Science, 37, 22–36. doi:10.1016/j.erss.2017.09.022