COALSTAKE: The Political Economy of Coal Policy – Comparative Analyses of Stakeholder Strategies and Resource Industries’ Embeddedness in the International Economy

Why do countries differ in their policy choices on coal energy?

Project Summary

Coal-fuelled power generation is the single largest source of CO₂ emissions worldwide. In order to fulfil the 2016 Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting the increase in global average temperature to below 2℃, over 80% of the world’s coal reserves must remain unused. Therefore, many countries are considering adopting policies to reduce the use of coal  and its mining. This project aims to reveal why some countries have opted for phase-out policies, whereas some others have not even included the issue on their political agenda.

These differences cannot be explained only by country-level factors, such as the economic development level, coal reserves, trade patterns or the number of interest groups advocating for environmental protection. This project thus pays attention to the interests, goals and activities of different policy actors.

The project asks the following questions:

– What are the key energy stakeholders’ interests related to coal and what coalitions emerge among them

– Why are some actors more influential than others in translating their interests into policy outcomes?

– What lessons can countries draw from coal policy trajectories in other countries?

Conceptually, the project will first bring the relevant theories from different disciplines together. Subsequently, the research team will analyze the links among energy stakeholders’ resource endowments, their policy-related activities and the evolution of discourses around coal energy.

These analyses include a special emphasis on the role and the abilities of local resource -production industries, their positioning in global resource trade and their employees.

Academic Output

Article

Decline: an Emerging Frontier for the Study and Practice of Decarbonization

It is increasingly well understood that decarbonization will require sustained efforts to encourage the rapid emergence and widespread diffusion of an array of complementary low-carbon innovations, giving rise to new carbon-neutral societal systems spanning from transport to agrifoods. The role of innovation has, therefore, been a central preoccupation within both the practice and theory surrounding climate change mitigation. However, deep lock-ins suggest that existing carbon-intensive systems will not be displaced or reconfigured by innovation alone. Rather, it is more appropriate to consider both innovation and decline as inextricably interlinked in the pursuit of decarbonization. There is a growing recognition of this in both research and practice, with a recent proliferation of studies and efforts engaging with the deliberate decline of carbon-intensive systems and their components (e.g., technologies). Yet, despite this, the role of intentional decline in decarbonization remains poorly understood and the emerging body of research in this area continues to be dispersed among different strands of literature and disciplines. In response, this article structures the fragmented strands of research engaging with conscious decline, interrogating the role it may play in decarbonization. It does so by systematically surveying concepts with particular relevance for intentional decline, focusing on phase-out, divestment, and destabilization.

Article

Divestment trends in Japan’s international coal businesses

Continued investments in coal-fired power plants (CFPPs) and coal mining are incompatible with the Paris Agreement. As a major investor of both upstream coal mining and downstream CFPP construction, Japanese firms play a large role in sustaining the international coal market. Yet since mid-2018, numerous Japanese companies have announced a range of coal divestment policies. This situation, however, has not been unexamined by scholarship. Additionally, divestment literature outside Japan has focused overwhelmingly on financial institutions rather than the roles of other industry players driving the coal market. To address this gap, this paper examines four industries comprising Japan’s international coal market (trading companies, electric utilities, plant equipment manufacturers and financial institutions) to empirically assess the extent of divestment behaviour and identify drivers and barriers. The empirical data reveal a slowdown, but not a cessation, of new and existing coal-related investments. Results also show that the extent of divestment trends can be largely explained by commercial factors, although institutional and structural factors are also at play. These findings have important policy implications.

Article

Preparedness of Swiss Citizens for the Future Energy Debate: How Political Predispositions Influence Factual and Perceived Knowledge

A common understanding in public opinion studies is that we, the public, often turn to mental shortcuts to form an opinion on important policy issues: in particular, we reflexively adopt the positions of the political parties with which we identify. The use of political heuristics is prevalent especially when the topic is highly politicized or technical (i.e., cognitively demanding), such as is the case in climate and energy policy. However, recent research on climate beliefs has shown that not only opinions but even our supposedly objective knowledge about the topic correlates with our political ideology. Moreover, research shows that these innocent and natural mental shortcuts may lead us to think we know (subjective knowledge) more than we do. Much of existing research in sustainability transitions has focused on the effect of policy-related information or its framing on public support for a hypothetical policy that is designed to achieve climate and sustainability goals. In reality, however, the amount and type of “relevant” information people seek is not exogenous as it is assumed in many of these studies. Instead, as marketing research has shown in the context of people’s product choice, our objective and subjective knowledge influence how much and what type of information we seek. This is why we argue that the potential effect of political heuristics on our knowledge-building is concerning whether or not our political parties espouse accurate information. In this paper, we investigate whether and under what conditions our perceived or factual knowledge might be influenced by our ideological predispositions.

Article

Decline in Carbon Intensive Arrangements Can Help Mitigate Climate Change

Over the past decades, climate change mitigation has tended to focus on green innovation as the primary means through which to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Governments have spent billions of dollars to promote low-carbon alternatives in electricity (renewables and storage), transportation (electric vehicles and charging infrastructure), and other domains. Businesses have begun to commercialize low-carbon services and technologies, households have started shifting their purchasing arrangements such as combustion-based vehicles, gas heating, and coal-based electricity generation are not being displaced at a sufficiently rapid pace. This has prompted societal actors to attend more seriously to the deliberate decline of such arrangements.

Research Team

Aya Kachi
Coordinator
University of Basel

Adrian Rinscheid
Co-Coordinator
University of St. Gallen

Mert Duygan
Principal Member
University of Basel

Fintan Oeri
Principal Member
University of Basel

Tabea Baumgartner
Principal Member
University of Basel

Thiago Dumont Oliveira
Principal Member
University of Basel

Roman Stutzer
Principal Member
University of Basel

Heinrich Wild
Principal Member
University of St. Gallen

Daniel Rosenbloom
Principal Member
University of Toronto

James Meadowcroft
Associated Member
Carleton University, Canada

Quynh Nguyen
Associated Member
Australian National University

Karoline Rogge
Associated Member
University of Sussex, UK

Volker Schneider
Associated Member
University of Konstanz, Germany

Sonia Seneviratne
Associated Member
ETH Zurich

Florian Weiler
Associated Member
University of Basel

Status

ongoing

Disciplines

Themes

Regions

Countries

Australia, Canada, Germany, Japan

Host Institution

Coordinator

Year