The overlooked role of discourse in breaking carbon lock-in: the case of the German energy transition

Pia Buschmann, Angela Oels

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articleAcademicpeer-review

Abstract

Over the last fifteen years, research on carbon lock-in has investigated why de-carbonization evolves so slowly in Western industrialized countries. In this paper, we argue that the role of discourses has been overlooked in the literature on carbon lock-in. We argue that discourses are both part of lock-in mechanisms, and important factors in explaining change using the concept of discursive turning points. This implies that we need to carefully investigate the dominant discourses that constitute and justify the very technologies, institutions and behaviours of the status quo. For the case of the German energy transition, we demonstrate the importance of discursive turning points for overcoming carbon lock-in, based on a literature review.
Germany’s long-standing lock-in of fossil fuels and nuclear power was undermined by the rise of the energy transition discourse. This discourse transitioned from a very marginal position to dominance through a number of factors, winning against the energy mix discourse. On the way, the energy transition discourse became de-radicalised. Coal has been able to defend its role in the German energy mix in the name of affordability and energy security. While renewables continue to grow, this happens alongside a remaining carbon lock-in. We conclude that discursive lock-in and discursive turning points are useful analytical tools that help to explain how the transition to renewable energies unfolds. In future research, the interaction between discursive lock-ins and other types of lock-in should be investigated.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere574
Number of pages14
JournalWiley Interdisciplinary Reviews-Climate Change
Volume10
Issue number3
Early online date10 Jan 2019
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2019

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energy
discourse
carbon
nuclear power
renewable energy
literature review
coal
fossil fuel
interaction
literature

Keywords

  • discursive
  • DISCOURSE
  • energy transition
  • GERMANY
  • lock-in
  • path dependency
  • FUKUSHIMA
  • NUCLEAR
  • POLITICS
  • POWER
  • PATH CREATION
  • discourse
  • POLICY
  • MODELS
  • INSTITUTIONALISM
  • DYNAMICS
  • Germany
  • ENERGIEWENDE

Cite this

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title = "The overlooked role of discourse in breaking carbon lock-in: the case of the German energy transition",
abstract = "Over the last fifteen years, research on carbon lock-in has investigated why de-carbonization evolves so slowly in Western industrialized countries. In this paper, we argue that the role of discourses has been overlooked in the literature on carbon lock-in. We argue that discourses are both part of lock-in mechanisms, and important factors in explaining change using the concept of discursive turning points. This implies that we need to carefully investigate the dominant discourses that constitute and justify the very technologies, institutions and behaviours of the status quo. For the case of the German energy transition, we demonstrate the importance of discursive turning points for overcoming carbon lock-in, based on a literature review. Germany’s long-standing lock-in of fossil fuels and nuclear power was undermined by the rise of the energy transition discourse. This discourse transitioned from a very marginal position to dominance through a number of factors, winning against the energy mix discourse. On the way, the energy transition discourse became de-radicalised. Coal has been able to defend its role in the German energy mix in the name of affordability and energy security. While renewables continue to grow, this happens alongside a remaining carbon lock-in. We conclude that discursive lock-in and discursive turning points are useful analytical tools that help to explain how the transition to renewable energies unfolds. In future research, the interaction between discursive lock-ins and other types of lock-in should be investigated.",
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The overlooked role of discourse in breaking carbon lock-in : the case of the German energy transition. / Buschmann, Pia; Oels, Angela.

In: Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews-Climate Change, Vol. 10, No. 3, e574, 2019.

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articleAcademicpeer-review

TY - JOUR

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N2 - Over the last fifteen years, research on carbon lock-in has investigated why de-carbonization evolves so slowly in Western industrialized countries. In this paper, we argue that the role of discourses has been overlooked in the literature on carbon lock-in. We argue that discourses are both part of lock-in mechanisms, and important factors in explaining change using the concept of discursive turning points. This implies that we need to carefully investigate the dominant discourses that constitute and justify the very technologies, institutions and behaviours of the status quo. For the case of the German energy transition, we demonstrate the importance of discursive turning points for overcoming carbon lock-in, based on a literature review. Germany’s long-standing lock-in of fossil fuels and nuclear power was undermined by the rise of the energy transition discourse. This discourse transitioned from a very marginal position to dominance through a number of factors, winning against the energy mix discourse. On the way, the energy transition discourse became de-radicalised. Coal has been able to defend its role in the German energy mix in the name of affordability and energy security. While renewables continue to grow, this happens alongside a remaining carbon lock-in. We conclude that discursive lock-in and discursive turning points are useful analytical tools that help to explain how the transition to renewable energies unfolds. In future research, the interaction between discursive lock-ins and other types of lock-in should be investigated.

AB - Over the last fifteen years, research on carbon lock-in has investigated why de-carbonization evolves so slowly in Western industrialized countries. In this paper, we argue that the role of discourses has been overlooked in the literature on carbon lock-in. We argue that discourses are both part of lock-in mechanisms, and important factors in explaining change using the concept of discursive turning points. This implies that we need to carefully investigate the dominant discourses that constitute and justify the very technologies, institutions and behaviours of the status quo. For the case of the German energy transition, we demonstrate the importance of discursive turning points for overcoming carbon lock-in, based on a literature review. Germany’s long-standing lock-in of fossil fuels and nuclear power was undermined by the rise of the energy transition discourse. This discourse transitioned from a very marginal position to dominance through a number of factors, winning against the energy mix discourse. On the way, the energy transition discourse became de-radicalised. Coal has been able to defend its role in the German energy mix in the name of affordability and energy security. While renewables continue to grow, this happens alongside a remaining carbon lock-in. We conclude that discursive lock-in and discursive turning points are useful analytical tools that help to explain how the transition to renewable energies unfolds. In future research, the interaction between discursive lock-ins and other types of lock-in should be investigated.

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