Tipping Away from Coal?: Exploring Narratives and Tipping Dynamics in the Phaseout of Coal on Svalbard
Siri Veland
Leticia Antunes Nogueira
Vida Maria Daae Steiro
Academic chapter/article/Conference paper
Springer Nature
Year published:
This chapter explores societal tipping points in energy transitions in the Arctic through the case of the phasing out of coal mining on Svalbard. The economy of the region, which has high geopolitical importance in the Arctic, was founded based on extractivism. More than a century ago, coal mining not only consolidated as Svalbard’s main industrial activity, but also crystalized in the region’s identity and in Norway’s strategy for sustaining its presence on the archipelago. International agreements and debates concerning green transitions, in combination with fluctuating coal prices and ageing infrastructure, have provoked the emergence of various narratives concerning the future of the archipelago. These narratives entail both low-carbon alternatives for the local economy, and alternative energy sources to power human life on Svalbard. This chapter examines these narratives, focusing on the interplay between demographic and socio-economic developments of the past 20 years. Several kinds of societal tipping points can be observed, from politico-economic to demographic and socio-cultural tipping points. The question remains, however, whether the Svalbard case also exemplifies tipping points in the biophysical dimensions of social-ecological systems. This will in large part depend on the ability to find viable energy alternatives that harmonize with regional geopolitical security.