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The Multilevel Politics of Decarbonization and Transportation Policy: The “Mobility Transition” in Canada and Germany

October 16, 2023 @ 12:30 pm - 1:30 pm

Transport is one of the largest GHG emitting economic sectors. Against this backdrop, governments from all levels – the supranational EU, the federal, provincial and municipal level – have ramped up their efforts to decarbonize transportation. The notion “mobility transition” (German: “Verkehrs”- or “Mobilitätswende”) encapsulates this ambition displayed in political discourses and policy initiatives to promote paradigmatic change in the transportation sector. It entails three key policy goals: First, to achieve carbon neutrality of transport by 2050. Second, to utilize the strategic importance of transport and infrastructure for a more activist industrial policy. Third, to facilitate a “just” and more equitable transition towards a low carbon economy by making low-carbon modes of transportation more accessible and affordable across different jurisdictions.

However, transformative political rhetoric does not necessarily translate into transformative political change. The transport sector has been particularly resistant to change, especially in Canada and Germany. This misalignment between political rhetoric and policy outcomes is reflected in implementation gaps.

Adopting a historical-institutionalist framework, I use the concept of critical junctures to better understand how multi-level governance affects current efforts to transform the provision of transport infrastructures. Two observations motivate this research project.

First, from a theoretical point of view a critical juncture suggests that large-scale, transformative change should be more likely to occur than during “normal” times. Considering this theoretical expectation, it is surprising that implementation gaps do not close more quickly, or even prevail in some areas. This raises the question to what extent multilevel governance hampers or facilitates transformative change, considering that the allocation of powers and policy coordination across jurisdictions is an important condition for effective climate action. Second, while political scientists have made significant contributions to research on climate and energy policy with a national, comparative and international focus in recent years, the field of transportation policy is still dominated by social geographers, ecological economists or engineers. In particular, no systematic effort has been made to examine comparatively the multilevel politics of transportation policy through the lens of comparative political science.

This talk will outline the contours of an emerging research project that seeks to address these gaps. Its objectives connect and speak to different pockets of scholarship within political science, most notably (comparative-historical) state theory, federalism and multilevel governance and comparative political economy.

About the speaker

Jörg Broschek is Laurier Research Chair and Professor of Political Science at Wilfrid Laurier University. His research examines how federal systems and more encompassing multilevel spaces of political and economic integration – like the European Union and North America – adjust to new international and domestic challenges. Dr. Broschek has been principal investigator and co-applicant on successful Connection, Insight and Partnership Development, and Partnership Engage Grants from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC). His articles have been published in academic journals including the Journal of European Public PolicyPolicy and Governance, the Journal of Common Market Studies, the Canadian Journal of Political SciencePublius: The Journal of FederalismRegional and Federal Studies, the Swiss Political Science Review, Comparative European Politics and Territory, Politics, Governance.


October 16, 2023
12:30 pm - 1:30 pm
Event Category:


Hybrid – Zoom and room 123
67 Erb Street West
Waterloo, ON N2L 6C2 Canada
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