Preventing dangerous climate change must be the priority for energy policy. The context is difficult, however, with rapid growth in energy demand around the world and growing fears about the security of supplies (see Chapter 1). Moreover, the urgency with which climate change must be tackled threatens to strain the principles of democratic government. This book focuses on explaining these issues and suggesting ways forward as governments come up against these trade-offs and tensions.
Industrialised nations have a historic responsibility for causing climate change, and therefore a moral obligation to reduce their own greenhouse gas emissions. However, in almost all countries, despite some good intentions and positive rhetoric, emissions are still rising. Energy for the Future goes a long way to explain why wealthy nations are finding it such a challenge to make their energy systems sustainable (Part I), and proposes steps governments and politically engaged stakeholders and citizens can take in leading the necessary transitions to low carbon economies (Parts II and III).
With a book of this breadth each reader will draw different lessons, and add these to their prior knowledge and understanding. For me there are three themes here that appear to go to the roots of the problems, and also point to potentially effective solutions. These are patterns of change in technologies and lifestyles, the political project of market liberalisation and engagement by business stakeholders and the public with the issues. In briefly taking up these themes this foreword gives a flavour of the arguments to be found in the chapters that follow and adds some of my own reflections.
Understanding continuities from the past into the future is vital to explain the challenges we face and to guide action. Part I explains how industrial economies have become 'locked in' to fossil fuel-based energy and transport systems. Energy systems of this kind are stable, but they are ill prepared when circumstances change in unforeseen ways, as with climate change. Technological infrastructures, organisations, society and government institutions have evolved together to create regimes that inhibit policy action, even in the face of known global climate risk and the availability of workable and often cost-effective alternatives.
In Chapter 14 the principles of precaution, diversity and flexibility are suggested as a basis for developing sustainable energy policies and more resilient energy systems. Changes in regulatory regimes, fuel prices or societies' expectations would not then so readily induce crises. Yet predictability and stability (rather than flexibility) are needed in other respects, for example to give confidence to private investors in low-carbon technologies. Moreover 'lock-in' of various kinds may be unavoidable. Andy Stirling returns to these themes in his Afterword.
To me, 'lock-in' also appears to apply to lifestyles. Since the industrial revolution, more consumption for a larger group of people has been the dominant direction of change, and this has been seen as unambiguously positive. More of the same is, however, no longer an option when aiming for global sustainability. Significant lifestyle changes will be necessary in wealthy countries, requiring a higher level of ecological literacy (Orr, 1990) if green alternatives are to be widely identified and pursued. Policies that prioritise cost reduction (and increasing consumption) appear short-sighted. A more 'interventionist' role for governments is becoming unavoidable (Chapter 6).
Concern with competition and economic growth dominates in energy policy, with climate change interpreted as a 'market failure' (Chapter 2). This is a questionable starting point, but a politically strong framing of the problem as it fits into economic growth discourse (Chapter 3) and enables further market mechanisms to be advanced as the solution. Chapter 11 critically reviews one such mechanism - the European Emissions Trading Scheme. Success here is vital, but competition in energy markets is no panacea and its pursuit can become an additional source of inertia (Chapter 6).
Market signals alone are inadequate to bring about significant deliberate change in complex systems such as electricity networks (Chapter 9). More direct, radical and imaginative solutions are needed in addition, yet policymakers are proving reluctant to discard principles 'embedded and embodied in the privatised and liberalised energy system' (Chapter 4). For example, explicit technology choice in policymaking ('picking winners') remains a taboo in the UK (Chapter 8), as does constraining consumer behaviours (Chapter 10).
The need for major reinvestment in energy systems presents an opportunity to move to low carbon energy systems, but this calls for a new kind of governance. Governments need policies that will make sufficient innovation and investment happen (Chapter 8). At the international level bodies such as the World Trade Organization and the World Bank need to give much more priority to sustainable energy policies and to technology transfer to developing countries (Chapter 12). Regionalinternational agreements between nations (for example, the European Union) have a crucial role to play as stepping stones between international objectives and national commitments (Chapter 2).
Compared to other environmental problems the climate challenge is of a different order, and the political context is quite different. Whereas other periods of intense energy policy change largely made people better off in the short run, the actions that are now needed potentially involve more pain, and must be initiated not for our ever-greater welfare, but to prevent an uncertain worst-case climate scenario. Moreover, some people remain unconvinced that climate change is being caused by human actions (e.g. Observer, 2008). In these contexts governments will face difficulties in reconciling urgent and sustained action to tackle climate change with securing legitimacy for such actions. Priority must therefore be given to building public support and enhancing the capacity for change across all sectors of society. This means empowering businesses, citizens and communities to engage in decisions and actions to reduce emissions (Chapters 4, 10 and 14).
Great care is needed to avoid a turn to authoritarianism in response to the urgency of tackling climate change (Chapter 5). In liberalised markets governments depend heavily on others to deliver on their policy aims and on public support for their overall approach. Energy systems are characterised by complexity, uncertainty and inertia, so many players will need to be involved in their transformation (Chapters 4 and 9).
Openness, inclusion and public debate are more vital than ever, for example, in developing visions to work towards and in day-to-day procedures such as policy and technology appraisals (Chapters 7, 8 and 13). In my view, sustainable energy policy needs to foster a comprehensive social learning process that involves all stakeholders - households, business, government and civil society alike. 'Learning' here goes beyond changes in attitudes and formation of intentions; it is measured by changes in behaviours, and needs to be part of the design of policy instruments leading to cultural change (Chapter 10).
I am interested in the implications for energy policy if economic production were geared more towards higher well-being instead of higher incomes. Economic growth has traditionally meant higher energy demand and higher carbon dioxide emissions, but our well-being or happiness has been shown to increase only weakly or not at all with higher GDP (Easterlin, 2002; van Praag and Ferrer-i-Carbonell, 2004; Layard, 2006). Mainstream economists have, belatedly, started to question the kind of economic growth we want, and to consider greener GDP measures (Brouwer et al., 1999) and new indicators and indices (Cobb et al., 1995; Stockhammer et al., 1997).
Energy for the Future provides a rich source of insights into the dilemmas energy policy presents, which helps when thinking through such ideas and their significance. Hopefully it will prompt others to reflect on their own ideas, lifestyle choices and, most of all, their engagement in what must become a global effort to make energy supply and use sustainable.
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