“Walking encyclopedias of studies” for sustainability transformations? The role of information and discourse in the case of the German coal phase-out
Abstract: Transformations of energy systems in line with the Paris Agreement demand rapid deliberate decline of fossil energy production for decarbonization. Rising in priority on national political agendas, policy change for deliberate decline meets political barriers in the form of powerful incumbent actors, path dependencies and frames of loss. Although these dynamics can impede transformations, literature remains unclear in how to engage with these barriers. Therefore, this study focused on discourse and policy process theories in a qualitative analysis based on a broad selection of documents and expert-based interviews to explore and illustrate the “Commission on Growth, Structural Change and Employment” in Germany (2018/19). In this multi-stakeholder committee, a phase-out plan for coal-fired power generation was negotiated alongside claims of just transitions. Findings indicate that policy change was reached through consensual agreement but was reduced in ambition through path dependent discourse and expert-based information. The selection and evaluation of expert-based information was closely tied to expert members, while political debate on necessary assumptions as a basis for this information remained scarce. Lastly, insights from discourse and expert-based information can enrich the understanding of sustainability transformations and further research on the case could investigate the narrative subscriptions of stakeholders.
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