Reframing energy policy

In this chapter we have provided several examples where central elements of energy policy have been discursively constructed so as to speak directly to core government priorities, such as economic growth and national security. This has served to maintain the dominance of the current framing of energy policy and to promote certain political interests. This is a challenging observation if one argues that energy policy needs to be reframed. The transition to a low carbon economy may be a good idea. Indeed, it is one that is increasingly central in policy discourses in both developed and developing countries. This does not, however, necessarily mean that this discursive shift will have any specific material impact on energy policy.

The institutional constraints on discursive developments highlighted in this chapter still exist and must be confronted (or conformed to) before new policy ideas are likely to gain any influence. Having an impact on the core of energy policy requires confronting the dominance, or 'discursive hegemony' of the existing way in which policy is framed - within the context of the constraints that have shaped and facilitated this existing framing. This is almost a 'Catch-22' situation if one wants to see urgent action to tackle climate change: to be radical but excluded (and potentially right only with hindsight), or gradualist and engaged in a process that may move too slowly to avert disaster.

This chapter's argument suggests that reframing energy policy is only likely to be successful if the arguments that support it are discursively constructed in such a way as to speak to core government imperatives. If climate change is one of the central reasons behind needing to reframe energy policy, then the fact that the environment sits outside of the core imperatives that governments have to deliver against to ensure their survival implies that this could be very challenging indeed. It is, of course, possible that future events might transpire to alter this. As mentioned above, catastrophic climate impacts might well mean that protecting the environment becomes a core government imperative. But by this point it may well be too late for any reframing of energy policy to be effective in tackling climate change.

Of course there is the possibility in the shorter term that the government imperative to sustain representative legitimacy will put tackling climate on an equal footing with security or economic growth. For this to happen in a relevant timeframe, however, will require extraordinary popular pressure and institutional changes. Ideas serving expansion of fossil fuel markets are strongly embedded in today's predominantly technocratic and nationalistic energy policy discourses. As a consequence, policy processes now need to be radically opened up to input from the public and stakeholders so that the central problems are reframed and effective solutions identified and implemented.

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