Bridging the Gaps in Global Energy Governance

By Florini, Ann; Sovacool, Benjamin K. | Global Governance, January-March 2011 | Go to article overview

Bridging the Gaps in Global Energy Governance


Florini, Ann, Sovacool, Benjamin K., Global Governance


Energy constitutes a rich, but underexplored, arena for global governance scholars and policymakers. The world is currently on an unsustainable and conflict-prone track of volatile and unreliable supply of energy fuels, vulnerable infrastructure, massive environmental degradation, and failure to deliver energy services to an enormous proportion of the global population. Changing to a different path will be a monumental global governance endeavor that will require bridging multiple issue areas, regimes, and policy silos. Meeting that challenge will require a greatly expanded research agenda aimed at understanding the institutions, interests, and concerns that do and could shape global energy governance. In this article, we lay out key energy-related global issues and explore some of the connections among them to suggest an initial research agenda for global governance scholars. KEYWORDS: global governance, energy policy, global energy governance, energy security.

ISSUES CONNECTED TO THE PROVISION OF ENERGY SERVICES AND THE DEPLOYMENT of energy technologies form a common thread across many of the most pressing global problems, cutting across geopolitical, environmental, and economic dimensions. Yet although the international relations, governance, and global policy literatures address energy concerns to some degree, they still reflect policy structures and remain divided into silos, handicapping efforts to adequately understand how energy policy and technology concerns cross domains. As energy concerns come to feature ever more prominently, such divides pose a serious impediment to the prospects for effective global governance on a variety of issues.

Even a cursory assessment makes clear that contemporary global energy governance arrangements are falling far short of meeting pressing needs to foster efficient markets, deal with externalities (notably, but not only, climate change), extend access to energy services to the billions of people not adequately served by markets, and address the many trade-offs involved with improving energy security. Indeed, as numerous studies have documented in recent years, the world is currently on an unsustainable and conflict-prone energy track of volatile and unreliable supply, brittle and vulnerable energy infrastructure, massive environmental degradation, and failure to deliver energy services. As former head of the International Energy Agency Claude Mandil notes, a continuation of existing trends in energy production and use is "not compatible with reality." (1) Changing to a different track is, however, a monumental governance endeavor. Few if any countries have effective energy governance arrangements and policies, and the global rules that shape and constrain national policy choices are an incoherent and inadequate mishmash.

Improved global energy governance will need to address numerous interrelated areas, covering issues normally dealt with in distinct scholarly and policy silos:

* Geopolitics and security questions, including competition for energy re sources, the nuclear nonproliferation regime, and terrorism and other cross-border threats to vulnerable energy infrastructure;

* The global environmental politics of energy, including climate change and other negative externalities that transcend national borders;

* The international political economy of energy, including the investment agreements, trade rules, and intellectual property rights regimes that influence energy choices and capital flows;

* Economic development policies and foreign assistance programs that shape energy policies and investments;

* Emerging issues in global governance and resource management that have major energy implications, such as water and agriculture.

Each of these areas is the subject of a considerable literature, but for the most part existing analyses do not explicitly connect them to broader questions of global energy governance. …

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