Fifteen Eighty Four

Academic perspectives from Cambridge University Press


Governing the Climate-Energy Nexus

Fariborz Zelli, Jakob Skovgaard, Karin Bäckstrand, Naghmeh Nasiritousi, Oscar Widerberg

Combating climate change and transitioning to fossil-free energy systems are two central planetary challenges humanity faces today

Combating climate change and transitioning to fossil-free energy systems are two central planetary challenges humanity faces today. The two challenges strongly overlap, both in their substance and in the political choices we have to address them. As a consequence, a plethora of international institutions – public, private, and hybrid ones – fall right into this overlap. They seek to regulate the complex linkages between climate change and global energy systems.

The highly complex and fragmented nature of this climate-energy governance ‘nexus’ confronts us with questions that need timely responses. How coherent is this governance nexus – in terms of the memberships, functions, core norms and interactions across its numerous institutions? How have states, international organizations, and other actors responded to this complexity when they tackle coherence and governance gaps? How does institutional complexity affect the legitimacy and effectiveness of individual institutions and the governance of the climate-energy nexus as a whole? Or, to concentrate these concerns into one question: to which degree do the many governance efforts on climate change and energy transition today add up to a coherent global framework?

These pertinent questions are addressed in the book Governing the Climate-Energy Nexus Institutional Complexity and Its Challenges to Effectiveness and Legitimacy. The book develops four evaluative themes – coherence, management, legitimacy and effectiveness – that we analyzed with a novel analytical framework for three policy fields in the climate-energy nexus: renewable energy, fossil fuel subsidy reform and carbon pricing. Through our case studies and a mixed method approach, the book makes theoretical, methodological and empirical contributions to the study of the complex institutional landscape of global climate and energy governance.

In terms of coherence and management, we found that the three fields we selected are characterized by cross-institutional coordination, rather than competition or outright harmony. Regarding perceptions of legitimacy, our results show that the specializations and occupational backgrounds of different stakeholders lead to considerable variations in their opinions of institutions. For effectiveness, we found that institutional complexity in the nexus plays both a supportive and a hindering role across all three cases. Disadvantages include, for instance, duplication of work, conflicting messages, and competition, while one advantage is the existence of more opportunities and venues to include a broader spectrum of actors and interests.

Based on our findings, we developed a series of policy recommendations. They include:

  • improving awareness of each other’s activities to avoid duplication of efforts and conflicting messages;
  • aligning interpretations of central concepts, i.e. what constitutes renewable sources of energy, fossil fuel subsidies and carbon pricing;
  • building stronger connections to counterparts in other areas of the climate-energy nexus and beyond; and entrusting one institution with an orchestrator role.

Finally, for a future research agenda on the governance of the climate-energy nexus, we suggest to:

  • enhance efforts to learn more about the causes of institutional complexity,
  • identify conditions for successful management approaches, and
  • examine further sub-fields and even domains outside the climate-energy nexus.

About The Authors

Fariborz Zelli

Fariborz Zelli is an Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at Lund University. He is also a Principal investigator and board member at BECC (Biodiversity and E...

View profile >

Jakob Skovgaard

Jakob Skovgaard is an Associate Professor at Lund University and a Principal investigator at BECC – (Biodiversity and Ecosystem services in a Changing Climate). His research focu...

View profile >

Karin Bäckstrand

Karin Bäckstrand is Professor in Environmental Social Science at the Department of Political Science at Stockholm University, where she co-directs the Environmental Policy, Politi...

View profile >

Naghmeh Nasiritousi

Naghmeh Nasiritousi is a postdoctoral research fellow at Stockholm University. Her research focuses on international climate change politics, energy governance, and issues of legit...

View profile >

Oscar Widerberg

Oscar Widerberg is an Assistant Professor at the Institute for Environmental Studies (IVM), Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. His teaching and research focusses on international and tr...

View profile >

Latest Comments

Have your say!