UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources


Stemming the Flow: A New Direction for Climate Change Governance

(c) UCL Creative Media

29 March 2012

In order to stabilise the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide at a level that avoids dangerous human interference with the climate system, it is estimated that the prudent upper limit on the remaining fossil fuel carbon that humanity can burn is of the order 0.5 trillion tons. The energy that this will generate is needed to sustain society for the interim, whilst powering the transformation to a low carbon sources of energy production. Sustaining society includes providing access to an affordable and reliable supply of energy to the 1.3 billion currently lacking such access.   Climate change governance is thus inseparable from energy governance. However, the two regimes have different historical origins, guiding principles, key actors, overall goals, scope, mechanisms and interfaces with non-energy systems. Hence, the problem of decarbonising the global energy supply is complex and fraught. Here we explore the sources of difficulty, the emerging linkages between both regimes, tensions arising therein, and ways in which they could be combined to become mutually reinforcing. We argue that a more integrated approach is essential to avoid conflicting agendas and also offers potential synergies that could accelerate policy making. In this context, a complex, multi-level and multi-arena regime is unavoidable.   However, policies are only as good as their real-world outcomes. In this regard, the nature of the innovation system upon which the delivery of low carbon technology relies strongly influences the nature and rate of transition achievable. Past practice, based on simplistic assumptions about the need to correct market failures is insufficient, as demonstrated by the differing success of wind energy development in different nations.

Stemming the Flow: A New Direction for Climate Change Governance.

Rapley, C.G., De Cendra de Larragan, J., McDowall, W., Ekins, P. (2012)

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