The transformation of the energy system represents a global phenomenon. As the world starts embracing a low carbon paradigm and as the expansion of renewable energy accelerates, energy systems are being reshaped around the globe. Although the shift away from high-carbon fuels is still too slow to effectively fight climate change, its far-reaching socio-economic impacts are beginning to take shape. Different speeds of investment in low carbon technology and infrastructure are giving rise to global low carbon leaders and laggards. The recalibration of (energy) value chains in conjunction with differing speeds of technology deployment and transfer (Quitzow, Huenteler, and Asmussen 2017) is creating both winners and losers (Goldthau 2017). These uneven developments have started to prompt states to revisit the role and function of industrial policy (Meckling and Hughes 2017). The role of community-level practices and decentralized renewable energy applications continues to evolve, rivalling or complementing national or regional policy frameworks (Kuzemko et al. 2017). On the European level, the low carbon transition is marked by important differences in normative aims and governance choices (Lilliestam and Hanger 2016), suggesting contestation both over the scope and the outcome of the energy transformation.
These coinciding trends are giving rise to political struggles occurring at different scales and governance levels. New actors and institutional arrangements are emerging and challenging the status quo. How these socio-economic impacts and resulting political struggles are managed has important implications for the speed and direction of future energy transitions. As pointed out by Sovacool (2017), energy transition processes are characterized by lock-ins and path dependencies, which may slow down the pace of change. At the same, there have been periods of rapid, policy-driven transformation, when technological, institutional and economic adjustments have happened in tandem. How these adjustments are playing out in different countries and regions around the world is subject to increasing scholarly attention (Fankhauser and Jotzo 2017; Kern and Markard 2016; Power et al. 2016; Shen and Xie 2017). Yet, studies tend to remain pre-occupied with country-level dynamics or technology specifics.
Studies with a global political economy perspective of energy transitions, in turn, are only beginning to emerge. For the most part, the literature remains focused on the changing energy geopolitics. O’Sullivan, Overland and Sandalow (2017) focus on scrambles over rare earth materials and the security of region-spanning electricity supergrids. Scholten (2018) points to the changing dynamics between energy producers and consumers, notably in oil. Hache (2016) suggests changing power relations here, but also new dependencies. Petrostates might come under pressure, challenging regional stability (Van de Graaf and Verbruggen 2015). A systematic assessment of the global energy transition, acknowledging the different governance levels, is so far missing.
In this section, we aim to adopt a multi-scalar perspective on the global energy transition. The section seeks to bring together novel contributions on the political economy of energy transition processes occurring at the global, national, sub-national and community-level. It aims to shed light on the simultaneous changes occurring at different geographical scales and place them in the context of a global energy transition. This perspective is complemented by two cross-cutting issues: the dynamics of innovation and industrial policy in emerging clean energy sectors, on the one hand, and the political economy of phasing-out fossil fuels and the related processes of structural change, on the other. Adding these cross-cutting themes provides an entry-point for linking the various geographical scales and levels of governance. It thereby seeks to highlight important inter-linkages across the different scales and promote an academic conversation on the related implications for policy and governance.
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Goldthau, Andreas. 2017. The G20 must govern the shift to low-carbon energy. Nature 546:203-205.
Hache, Emmanuel. 2016. La géopolitique des énergies renouvelables : amélioration de la sécurité énergétique et / ou nouvelles dépendances ? Revue internationale et stratégique 1 (110):26-36.
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