Policymaking for a faster shift towards a carbon free energy system

Wednesday 16 August 2017

Current energy policies are a long way from achieving a rapid transformation to a low carbon system of energy supply. One of the main reasons behind this is the political resistance from the existing fossil fuel industries, argues Dr Christian Downie, School of Regulation and Global Governance, ANU.

In his paper, Business actors, political resistance, and strategies for policymakers, Dr Downie shows that while there have been studies describing the influence of business actors (large energy producing firms) from various policy areas, not much work has examined the behaviour of business actors in industries such as oil, gas and coal. Dr Downie focuses on the role of business actors in the US energy sector and asks what should the policymakers do?

Based on interviews with business actors across the US energy sector, Dr Downie argues that there are specific strategies policymakers can employ to help overcome the resistance from the fossil fuel industries. One of the methods he suggests is to establish and build existing interests by making sector specific policies. Targeted policies which provide concentrated benefits to firms and households are easier to establish than general policies.

Another method is to exploit divisions across the energy sector. Inter-industry conflicts can be utilised to benefit the policymakers by establishing smart policies which exploit the pre-existing divisions in the industry. Intra-industry divisions can be exploited by targeting corporations that form a preference opposed to that of the rest of the industry. Another way to exploit divisions is to target politically weaker industries which are less able to mount a resistance campaign.

Dr Downie argues that shifting existing interests and creating wider networks should also be a priority of policymakers. Policies should send strong signals that drive change.

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