Unknown Knowns in EU Energy Policy

Chief EditorNews

Despite the concerted efforts of the scientific community and politicians to contain greenhouse gas emissions, the CO2 level in the atmosphere continues to increase monotonically. This raises the question whether the scientific representations and related knowledge claims used to inform EU energy policy have been incomplete or incorrect.

In a new publication, researchers and board members associated with the late Moving Towards Adaptive Governance in Complexity: Informing Nexus Security (MAGIC) project and the Uncomfortable Knowledge Hub (UKH) examine whether there are alternative relevant knowledge claims that have been overlooked or ignored in the discussion of energy policies and if so, why? To answer these questions, the authors draw on three case studies related to energy efficiency improvements, liquid biofuels, and decarbonization of electricity, using a novel procedure for quality checking policy narratives grounded in post-normal science. The focus of the approach is on the coherence of the why (“concerns” or “justifications”), what (“solution”), and how (“scientific evidence”) of energy policies. The authors show that for all case studies considered alternative knowledge claims, mostly derived from the relatively new field of non-equilibrium thermodynamics, would be available for better informing energy policy, but that these alternative knowledge claims remain unknown knowns in the chosen framing of the issues. The authors conclude that the purported idea that the various concerns identified in EU energy policy can be solved simultaneously is unrealistic. This idea can only persist by virtue of banishing uncomfortable knowledge and the creation of implausible socio-technical imaginaries. When considering different aspects of the problem and the integration of different narratives and knowledge claims, a smooth and painless transition to a zero-carbon economy seems unlikely.

Full article available in open access here: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.erss.2022.102739.