The political price of phasing out coal: An analysis of US Presidential Elections
ETH Zürich, Switzerland
Phasing out coal is a central policy lever for reaching the Paris agreement’s climate targets. Phasing out technologies creates winners and losers, as they affect value chains and related jobs, which can result in political feedback effects, e.g., by voters switching to climate change-denying parties. The extant literature on coal phase-out is of qualitative nature and does not provide evidence for vote shifts. We address this gap by focusing on the US and analyzing – in a difference-in-difference setup – the feedback effects of decline in coal mining on electoral outcomes in the presidential elections from 2000 to 2016. The US, and particularly the region of Appalachia, has experienced a drastic and rapid decline in coal production since 2011, resulting in a loss of employment in mining of around 40% compared to 2010. Preliminary findings show that, in 2012, counties affected by coal decline had a significantly higher GOP vote share than those in the control group. The 2016 Trump campaign, which made the coal phase out even more salient, increased this effect further, but the main vote shift had already occurred in 2012. Abstracting from the US case, we discuss the implications of our findings for sustainability transitions, focusing especially on the role of exnovation and phase-out therein.
Transitioning fossil fuel exporters: climate policymaking in Norway, Canada, and Australia
University of Toronto, Canada
Norway is often perceived to be an indisputable climate policy leader among its fossil fuel-exporting peers, such as Canada and Australia. The Nordic nation is an outlier: an early climate policy innovator that has steadily expanded its suite of climate policies. It has the first and highest carbon price on the oil and gas industry and highest rates of electric vehicle adoption in the world. Australia and Canada are both late to the game and have historically narrowly scoped climate policies. They have also both suffered from retrenchment of major carbon pricing initiatives. Given this considerable gulf in climate policy, one would expect Norway to have reduced substantially its carbon emissions, compared to Canada and Australia. Ironically, this is not the case; despite clear policy variation in timing and scope, all three countries have seen no substantial decrease in emissions. Whatever the differences are in the climate policies, they are not resulting in what ultimately matters: absolute emission reductions.
What explains these remarkable differences in the climate policies of these three similarly situated fossil fuel exporters, and why have all three sets of policies failed to reduce emissions? How can these countries hasten the transition towards decarbonization?
Through the process tracing of climate policy development from 1988 to 2018 in Norway, Canada, and Australia, and based on 120 elite interviews and documentary analysis, I abductively develop a conceptual framework that enables a single explanation for both the climate policy variation and the shared failure to decarbonize. Leveraging the extant literature on state strength, elite risk perceptions and policy networks, this paper proposes a framework that probes the latent politics behind the noisy deliberations surrounding the climate policy.
This novel comparative approach reveals a host of meaningful policy implications that emphasize the larger political context in which climate policy debates are often found. For example, attention is given to the degree of state autonomy from powerful major emitters, bureaucratic competence, the broader framing of climate policy regimes, and member diversity in policy networks. Causal mechanisms are identified that link state strength, elite risk perceptions and policy networks with climate policy outputs and emissions outcomes. Strategies are developed to overcome the seemingly incalcitrant barriers to implementing climate policy that can reduce absolute greenhouse gas emissions in three very wealthy, liberal, democratic and fossil fuel-exporting countries.
Bio: Nathan Lemphers is a PhD Candidate at the University of Toronto. Beyond his dissertation, Nathan’s research examines the politics of fossil fuel subsidy reform and the diffusion of electric vehicle policies. Prior to his doctoral studies, he was an oil sands and pipeline policy analyst at the Pembina Institute, Canada’s leading energy and environmental policy think tank.
Sustainability through institutional failure and decline? Archetypes of productive pathways
Leuphana University, Germany
While current literature on sustainability transition governance and institutional change is preoccupied with innovation, novelty, success and ‘best practice’, there is an emergent tendency to consider decline and failure as opportunities and leverage points to work towards and to achieve sustainability. However, while failure, crisis, and decay have been treated extensively, the link towards their productive potential has remained underdeveloped in the literature (Derwort et al. 2018). Using a systems perspective on institutional change, this paper describes five archetypical pathways through which crisis, failure, deliberate destabilization and active management of decline may facilitate sustainability transformation through adaptation, learning and informed choices regarding stability versus change.
This paper seeks to provide a basis for further conceptual and empirical inquiry by formulating archetypical pathways that link aspects of failure to productive functions in the sense of sustainability. Conceptual underpinnings to describe the five pathways draw on different literatures, including socio-technical transitions to sustainability, social-ecological systems, historical institutionalism, structural functionalism, and policy change. We describe the way each pathway works, discuss the roles and capacities of the institutional and policy system and consider the scope for agency within institutional regimes. Each pathway is illustrated by real-world examples.
The first pathway examines how crises may trigger institutional adaptations towards sustainability – either through learning or lesson drawing in that a crisis presents a test-bed to the functioning of the institution (an unwanted experiment with a negative outcome), or through the creation of a window of opportunity for institutional change, taking advantage of a crisis as a focusing event.
The second pathway concerns systematic learning from failure, rather than ad-hoc learning once something goes wrong. We distinguish learning from own experience (endogenous learning) and learning from others (exogenous learning) and contrast learning from failure with the common trend for ‘best practice’ examples.
The first two pathways describe how existing institutions can be improved by adapting to or learning from failure. This presupposes that these institutions are generally functioning and also normatively desirable in the sense of sustainability. At times, however, more fundamental institutional change towards sustainability is required – beyond the mere improvement of existing systems.
The third pathway, therefore, describes the purposeful destabilization of unsustainable institutions to pave the way for alternatives (Turnheim and Geels 2013). We discuss what we term the ‘problem of unlocking’ and the ‘problem of re-stabilization’, both of which bear specific implications for governance.
Different from the previous ones, our fourth pathway is concerned with situations in which decline is inevitable because of external or internal factors. It describes how to make a virtue of inevitable decline, discussing opportunities that can arise either through a new and innovative re-deployment of existing structures, or through a full institutional redesign in the face of inevitable decline.
The fifth pathway comes into play in constellations where an existing institution has started to decline, but where decline can still be halted. We discuss the opportunities of an active and reflexive decision-making in the face of decline instead of leaving it to chance.
We demonstrate that the five productive pathways are not unrelated, and therefore propose that they ought to be discussed in conjunction (which has not been done in the literature so far): First, there are a number of ‘meta-topics’ shared by many pathways, namely learning; innovation; and stability versus change. Moreover, in reality different pathways may serve as building blocks for typical sequences.
We close by discussing aspects of politics, conflict and normativity. In developing these archetypical pathways, this paper seeks to move forward the debate on sustainability transformation and harness the potential of hitherto overlooked institutional dynamics to accelerate sustainability transitions.
Political resiliency through institutional design: A case study of energy efficiency
1York University, Canada; 2Efficiency Canada
The challenge of transitioning to a future, low-carbon energy system will involve wide-ranging changes to the way we produce and consume energy. Accordingly, improvements in energy efficiency will be a core component of this transition – according to the International Energy Agency’s “Efficient World Scenario”, energy efficiency alone could limit the increase in primary energy demand by 2040 to levels only marginally higher than today, despite a global economy twice the present size (International Energy Agency, 2018). This alone works out to 40% of the GHG reductions necessary for the world to meet the Paris Agreement targets. Doing so will require a sizable increase in the amount of energy efficiency savings delivered annually, however, and thus an approach that goes beyond lowest-cost and easy-to-implement efficiency measures (Rosenow, Kern, & Rogge, 2017).
Meeting such targets for efficiency will therefore require, like other low-carbon transition initiatives, both policy intervention and the political will to sustain it. Unfortunately, recent developments have drawn attention to the growing challenge of populism, post-truth politics, and local opposition to climate change and other low-carbon energy efforts (Fraune & Knodt, 2018). Moreover, the policy sphere for energy efficiency has evolved as well, with new sources of funding becoming available in carbon price revenues and capacity markets, diversification of institutional models for traditional, utility-system program administration, and the emergence of new organizations and institutions for the delivery of efficiency improvements outside or alongside utility-systems. The question of how best to design institutions for expanded and improved delivery of energy efficiency thus touches not only on the effectiveness of those institutions in delivering savings, but also their political and social acceptability, as well as their robustness and resiliency against internal and external challenges.
This paper utilizes a framework for analyzing institutions derived from literature in transition studies, socio-ecological studies and public administration (Duit, 2016; Olsson, Galaz, & Boonstra, 2014; Ostrom, 2005; Smith & Stirling, 2010) to identify and evaluate institutional factors that have contributed to (or detracted from) the political resiliency of energy efficiency delivery in select North American state/province case studies. Utility-run demand-side management programs tend to operate with a considerable amount of political autonomy, social acceptability and robustness, though with some variance in effectiveness and uncertainty as to their resiliency in the face of the challenges noted above. Furthermore, the emergence of new institutions with complementary mandates has, in some circumstances, not been characterized by the same degree of institutional stability (e.g., the Ontario GreenON program).
Though its case study comparison and analysis, this paper aims to provide insight into how institutional design principles can bolster resiliency, while improving effectiveness and maintaining (if not increasing) acceptability of energy efficiency.
Duit, A. (2016). Resilience Thinking: Lessons for Public Administration. Public Administration, 94(2), 364–380. https://doi.org/10.1111/padm.12182
Fraune, C., & Knodt, M. (2018). Sustainable energy transformations in an age of populism, post-truth politics, and local resistance. Energy Research & Social Science, 43, 1–7. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.erss.2018.05.029
International Energy Agency. (2018). Energy Efficiency 2018: Analysis and outlooks to 2040 (Market Report Series) (p. 174). Paris: IEA/OECD.
Olsson, P., Galaz, V., & Boonstra, W. J. (2014). Sustainability transformations: a resilience perspective. Ecology and Society, 19(4). https://doi.org/10.5751/ES-06799-190401
Ostrom, E. (2005). Understanding Institutional Diversity (1 edition). Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Rosenow, J., Kern, F., & Rogge, K. (2017). The need for comprehensive and well targeted instrument mixes to stimulate energy transitions: The case of energy efficiency policy. Energy Research & Social Science, 33, 95–104. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.erss.2017.09.013
Smith, A., & Stirling, A. (2010). The politics of social-ecological resilience and sustainable socio-technical transitions. Ecology and Society, 15(1), 11.