The political economy of ending the fossil fuel era : lessons from the Lake Turkana Wind Power project in Kenya

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Title: The political economy of ending the fossil fuel era : lessons from the Lake Turkana Wind Power project in Kenya
Alternative title: The political economy of ending the fossil fuel era : lessons from the Lake Turkana Wind Power project in Kenya
Author: Simberg-Koulumies, Nina
Other contributor: Helsingin yliopisto, Valtiotieteellinen tiedekunta
University of Helsinki, Faculty of Social Sciences
Helsingfors universitet, Statsvetenskapliga fakulteten
Publisher: Helsingin yliopisto
Date: 2021
Language: eng
Thesis level: master's thesis
Degree program: Yhteiskunnallisen muutoksen maisteriohjelma
Master's Programme in Society and Change
Magisterprogrammet för samhälle i förändring
Specialisation: Kehitysmaatutkimus
Development Studies
Abstract: In the light of increasing socio-ecological crises, there has been a surge in the promotion of, and investments in, renewable energy in the Global South. Previous theories and research, largely framed around conservative and liberal paradigms, have hailed these developments as a breakthrough. Yet, just sustainability theorists have pointed to logically plausible problems in these alternatives, suggesting that they do not go far enough and could, indeed, worsen the present crises. From these critiques, the conservative and liberal advocacy of a shift towards a low-carbon society does not, and cannot, automatically guarantee just sustainabilities. Although controversial, neither conservative, liberal, nor just sustainability theorists have empirically ascertained these claims about the nature of sustainable development. Africa’s largest wind power plant, the Lake Turkana Wind Power (LTWP) project in Kenya, provides a useful case study for this purpose. In addressing this lacuna, this thesis attempts to answer two fundamental questions related to the project. First, which are the dominant discourses on the LTWP project in Kenya? and second, what are the prospects of these discourses to drive just sustainability in Kenya? To address these questions, a range of rich data was collected, consisting of eight semi-structured interviews with key informants in Kenya and Finland, written documents including 12 news and feature articles, two policy documents and one company impact assessment. The data was systematised using critical discourse analysis (CDA) set within a political-economic framework of just sustainabilities in which wind power is dialectically linked to the dominant fossil fuel system built on global inequalities. Based on this methodology, this thesis argues that not only is the LTWP project not regarded as an environmental sustainability initiative, it is mostly understood as satisfying economic needs. More fundamentally, as the LTWP is realised within the dominant capitalist frame, guided by a reliance on market forces, new technologies and a search for new frontiers of capital accumulation, processes that are erected on, and typically drive, local and global inequalities, it does not address wider concerns of inclusion, raised by representatives for local communities in Northern Kenyan in the semi-structured interviews. Analytically, this evidence shows that mainstream conservative and liberal theories of development and energy are insufficient for analysing the transition from fossil to alternative fuels, let alone provide a canvass for a total liberation of the Global South. Clearly, the political economy of LTWP also calls into question the objectives of donor nations involved in the project as financiers. This evidence provides further basis to put the case for understanding alternative energy projects, particularly the LTWP under study, within a much broader framework of alternative, radical theories of just sustainabilities centred on concepts such as just land.
Subject: development
critical development studies
renewable energy
wind power
Lake Turkana Wind Power project
Subject (yso): kehitysmaatutkimus
uusiutuvat energialähteet

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