Panel 8: Energy and Climate Governance

Chaired by: dr. Thomas Hoppe (UT), dr. Ellen van Bueren (TU Delft) & drs. Maurits Sanders (UT),,

1. Description of the proposed theme for the panel

Governments face an ‘energy trilemma’ following the confluence of economic, engineering and environmental constraints to energy production. Furthermore, reliable supply of energy is threatened, and as a consequence the price of (fossil fuel) energy is rising, and will continue to do so. In order to deal with these problems governments face the challenge to ‘green’ their energy economies. This concerns limiting greenhouse gas emissions (climate mitigation) and hence, limiting the use of ‘dirty’ generated energy from the fossil fuels. Currently, many alternative strategies are available: reduction of energy demand, the use of renewable energy sources, and using energy more efficiently. In operational terms many benefits can be achieved from increasing the installed capacity of renewable energy generation plants, better coordination of energy supply and demand (e.g., by implementing ‘smart grids’), use of ‘smart’ (ICT) technologies, using heat residuals from industrial processes to heat housing, or changing spatial schemes in order to allow the establishment of large renewable energy plants, or implementing large governmental programs to have privately owned housing better insulated.

Although these measures and strategies have benefits and sound promising many barriers exist that block their full application and large-scale adoption. It seems that fossil energy (carriers) have become embedded into the ‘DNA’ of modern economies and policies that undergird these economies. In the United States the term ‘national energy addiction’ is actually used to express the dependency of societal actors (industries, households, business firms, governments) to a system that runs on the use of fossil fuels to produce and use energy. Production processes, policies, and stakeholders’ interests are intertwined with fossil fuels being ‘locked in’. This undermines governmental efforts to stem the tide, as many practical barriers remain. As a consequence policy strategies aimed at greening the energy economy are often incoherent (e.g., policy foci change year by year), there is a high degree of institutional complexity in carrying out these strategies, and the out-of-date energy infrastructure does not allow for innovative solutions. Not surprisingly, effectiveness of climate and energy policies is often poor, and it looks like the market for sustainable energy alternatives grows at a rather low pace. Nonetheless, awareness has risen recent years and many local ‘green energy’ initiatives are on the agenda or have already been realized. For example, water boards develop ‘energy factories’ and farmers join forces to collectively run green gas production and distribution plants.

The role of government in energy and climate issues is ambiguous. On the one hand governments have a role in setting targets, norms and standards. On the other hand governments often lack the authority and competence to demand that societal and market parties to achieve targets in terms of fixed rates of reduction in energy consumption or reduction in terms of GHG’s emitted, following the agreements made concerning the implementation of the Kyoto protocol. In this panel we take a critical stance toward the ways governmental bodies appreciate sustainable alternatives to fossil fuel energy generation and implement strategies to have these adopted in society. We focus at the institutional dimension and division of power in decision-making (both in national policy making processes and local implementation projects). Both Dutch and international practices are considered relevant, especially in the light of the Netherlands losing its pioneering status in the energy and climate policy since the 1990s.

The theoretical focus of the panel will be on understanding the transition towards a sustainable energy economy from a public administration / policy studies perspective. This is innovative since the dominant theoretical approach in analysing transitions (or rather called ‘system innovation’) stems from Science and Technology Studies, in which the research object – the transition from a traditional ‘dirty’ economy towards a ‘sustainable-sound’ economy – is analysed from an ecological evolutionary, and neo-institutional economic perspective. Not surprisingly, analytical efforts remain one-sidedly economic and only focus on historical long term developments. In our opinion, the role of government and governance (also considering short term ‘how’-questions), and the institutional conditions and settings under which transitions may occur, need more attention. This implies paying attention to the multi-level and –actor dimensions in governance modes, and use of theoretical frameworks relevant to issues that are traditionally associated to the domains public administration and policy studies: for example, policy networks (on relations between interdependent organizations), public management (public organizations and their capabilities in relation to performance), discourse analysis and advocacy coalition frameworks.

The aim of the panel session is to contribute to an evaluative framework for energy transition policies which builds on the rich theories of the policy process as developed within public administration and policy sciences. Theoretical papers addressing this issue are welcome, but we are especially interested in empirical studies. Single case studies are allowed, provided that they are put in an international context.

2. Linkage between the panel topic and the NIG research programme subtheme “multi-actor governance in complexity”

Multiple public and private stakeholders are involved in decision-making on energy and climate issues. The theme is quiet broad and involves multiple layers of governance and multiple (types of) actors. Due to their sheer number, their wide array of interests, and the fact that not all of them are ready to compromise, there is a high degree of complexity. Energy and climate issues and the quest for the transition towards a carbon free society may be classified in terms of a ‘wicked’ or at least ‘poorly structured’ problem. Indeed, conformity on achievable goals and a coherent strategy is absent, let alone the selection of a coherent policy mix and roadmaps to incrementally contribute to a strategy to bring this transition about.

The panel is a sequence to a panel session with the same topic held last at the NIG work conference in Leuven in November 2012, and a panel session we organize at the ECPR conference in Bordeaux in September 2013. The papers that were presented at the 2012 Leuven panel session were published as contributions in a special issue edition of the academic journal ‘Bestuurswetenschappen’ (2013, vol.2). We strive to have this year’s session’s contributions also published in a special issue of a peer-reviewed academic journal or in an edited volume.

3. The type of papers to be submitted to the panel

The panel accepts papers that are considered relevant to the central topic of energy and climate governance. However, we judge it necessary that the papers have a theoretical perspective that (a) is in line with public administration and/or policy studies and (b) deals with issues on energy and climate governance. Papers may have different research designs. We welcome both case studies, comparative studies, theoretical papers, and quantitative studies. The papers may concern different aggregation levels of analysis (both local, regional, national or supra-national).

Paper contributions are limited to 8,000 words. We will not allow more than eight papers. If more papers are submitted we will select the best papers on the basis of relevance to our topic and academic excellence. Based on the coherence, quality, and scope of the papers the panel organisers may explore the possibility to have the contributions published in an academic journal.

We present a few examples of research questions we consider relevant to papers that may be submitted to our panel.


Which theories from public administration and/or policy studies can contribute to improve insights on the transition to a sustainable energy economy, and how can they be applied?


How to bridge the theoretical gap between public administration and/or policy studies and science-and-technology studies on furthering understanding in sustainable energy transitions?


Which research methods are relevant for the analysis of transition processes from the perspective of public administration and/or policy studies (methods that go beyond the usual historical narrative-style analysis typically used in Science-and-Technology-Studies)?


How can a model be developed to govern the transition towards a sustainable energy economy (concerning planning, organisation and legal structures)?

Furthermore, case studies issues related to energy and climate governance with an analysis from a public administration and/or policy studies perspective are very much appreciated. We also welcome papers that cover a variety of domains, for instance: energy conservation in housing (or neighbourhoods), projects in setting up wind of solar-pv farms, the introduction of smart grids, campaigns to educate households on how to use energy more rationally, or the practice of local climate policy implementation.

4. Panel organisation

The panel session is organised by three researchers from different institutes: Dr. Thomas Hoppe (University of Twente), Dr. Ellen van Bueren (Technological University of Delft) and drs. Maurits Sanders (University of Twente, Saxion). All three of them are active members on behalf of the Vereniging voor Bestuurskunde (VB). Van Bueren is in the editorial board of Bestuurskunde and Virtueel Bestuur and explores the establishment of a Kring Zuid-Holland in which governance of energy and climate is discussed with academic participants and practitioners. Hoppe and Sanders participate in Kring Oost. All organisers publish national and international in the field of energy and climate governance.

5. Expected outcome

Like last year, we strive to have the papers presented at the panel session, published in an academic journal (or in an edited volume). The panel contributes to a research agenda. By this, we strive to set up a new research community within the domains of Public Administration and Policy Studies in the Netherlands and Flanders. We also organize panel sessions at other relevant conferences (e.g., ECPR, EURA).