Mobilising change in cities: a capacity framework for understanding urban energy transition pathways

Ting Ting Tracy Cheung*, Sara Fuller, Jürgen Oßenbrügge

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
29 Downloads (Pure)


The role of cities in mobilising transformative change has gained increasing attention in global discourses on climate change and sustainability. Through the lens of urban energy transitions, this paper focuses on how this form of change within the urban energy system can be mobilised. Capacity is an emergent concept and has been adopted to identify areas for change and assess the transformative potential of cities. Connecting three dimensions of capacity: capacity for what, capacity of whom and the process of capacity building, we present a new conceptual framework to understand diverse transition pathways. To interrogate the capacity framework in practice, we explore the illustrative cases of Hamburg and Hong Kong. The paper demonstrates that capacity is connected to specific changes in political, material, institutional and other energy-related societal contexts. Understanding the variety of dependencies and underlying challenges within urban energy systems , as well as the kinds of actor coalitions that are capable of addressing such complexity and mobilising change, enables the development of specific socio-technical solutions for urban energy transition pathways. Our focus on local capacity to act and how such capacity can be expanded or diminished contributes to a deeper understanding of the power relations embedded in urban energy systems and the role local actors can play in enabling and hindering processes for change. Such examination of how complex trajectories for change are defined and shaped allows significant insights into plausible futures of urban development.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)531-545
Number of pages15
JournalEnvironmental Policy and Governance
Issue number5
Early online date6 Feb 2023
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2023

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2023. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • capacity
  • climate change
  • transition pathways
  • urban energy systems
  • urban energy transitions


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