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“Bigger than Government”: Exploring the Social Construction and Contestation of Net-zero Industrial Megaprojects in England


Industry is frequently framed as hard-to-decarbonize given its diversity of requirements, technologies, and supply chains, many of which are unique to particular sectors. Net zero commitments since 2019 have begun to challenge the carbon intensity of these various industries, but progress has been slow globally. Against this backdrop, the United Kingdom has emerged as a leader in industrial decarbonization efforts. Their approach is based on industrial clusters, which cut across engineering, spatial, and socio-political dimensions. Two of the largest of these clusters in England in terms of industrial emissions are the Humber and Merseyside. In this paper, drawn from a rich mixed methods original dataset involving expert interviews (N = 46 respondents), site visits (N = 20), a review of project documents and the academic literature, we explore ongoing efforts to decarbonize both the Humber and Merseyside through the lens of spatially expansive and technically complex megaprojects. Both have aggressive implementation plans in place for the deployment of net-zero infrastructure, with Zero Carbon Humber seeking billions in investment to build the country’s first large-scale bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) plant alongside a carbon transport network and hydrogen production infrastructure, and HyNet seeking billions in investment to build green and blue hydrogen facilities along with a carbon storage network near Manchester and Liverpool. We draw from the social construction of technology (SCOT) literature to examine the relevant social groups, interpretive flexibility, and patterns of closure associated with Zero Carbon Humber and HyNet. We connect our findings to eight interpretive frames surrounding the collective projects, and make connections to problems, contestation, and closure.

Related subjects: Policy & Socio-Economics

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