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Abstract: In this paper we develop a concept of transformative environmental policy as a complementary field of environmental policy, which addresses ongoing processes of societal change and utilizes them for achieving environmental sustainability. In our view, transformative environmental policies are not replacing other environmental policies that protect natural resources or reduce emissions or such policies that aim to integrate environmental concerns in other domains of policy making. Instead, transformative environmental policy is focused on ongoing societal change.
The concept of transformative environmental policy is based on the assumption of limited government’s capacities to plan and steer societal transformations. Based on this assumption, it suggests three key elements of governing transformative change: 1) a systematic observation and analysis of processes of societal change, 2) identifying issue areas and action fields which are critical for societal change even if they are beyond the traditional responsibility of environmental departments, and 3) the development, support and review of experiments which have the potential of re-directing societal trends towards sustainability.
The concept is based on the notion of transformation as a co-evolution of different societal systems, and in particular technological systems, culture and institutions. There is no single determinant that is causal for transformation, and certainly not a single governmental intervention. Instead, transformations are the result of a dynamic interplay between different systems and innovation.
The concept seeks realistic opportunities of influencing societal transformations towards sustainability. It is a characteristic of transformations that the direction and the pace of change are disputed. This is also the case for transformations towards sustainability: Different actors compete on the framing of visions which may guide such transformation. They range from green economy-visions of industrialized and globalized societies to post growth-visions and regionalized societies.
The paper is organized as follows: Firstly, key findings from the literature on transitions and transformations are summarized. The first section addresses the questions on the characteristics of societal transformations, the drivers and actors of transformation based on a review of literature. The second section summarizes findings from an analysis of visions of transformations towards sustainability. The third and final section develops the concept of a transformative environmental policy and discusses the implications for policy making and opportunities to govern transformative changes.