Reconciling urgency and legitimacy

Policymaking for energy in the UK between 2000 and 2003 showed recognition of the urgency of the climate change agenda, and the need for radical, legitimate policy responses. During this period policy processes started to engage broadly with both public and stakeholders and a degree of political legitimacy was built around the 2003 White Paper. From 2005 onwards, however, there were changes in both policy substance and process. The change was less marked in substance though it did involve giving greater weight to energy security and to centralised and large-scale technology options like nuclear power. But the change in process was much more marked, and took a potentially dangerous turn in terms of reduced legitimacy. Security of supply was elevated as a policy priority and a risky technological solution was advanced in an authoritarian way as the solution, with damaging consequences for the likelihood that policy could work in practice. After the Sullivan verdict minimal procedural norms for policy consultations were followed, but the substance was hollow and government abandoned any attempt at building deliberative public engagement.

UK experience, therefore, is that it is possible for policy to jointly pursue urgency and legitimacy, but that in pursuing an amended and more centralised vision of urgency it is easy for governments to lose sight of the legitimacy agenda, and thereby threaten the achievement of the radical action so necessary to mitigate climate change. Future energy policy needs to recreate the kinds of conditions that applied in 2000-3 if it is to be both substantively well-directed and broadly legitimate.

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