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It’s time to stop talking about targets and instead talk about governance

14 December, 2020

Louise Reardon

Timea Nochta

Li Wan

Reading time: 4 minutes

A target isn’t action – it is the promise of it. This blog and call for papers asks how carbon targets are interpreted at and across different levels of governance and different policy areas?

There has been a lot of talk recently about carbon targets. Earlier this month, Boris Johnson was praised for announcing that the UK now aims to cut emissions 68% (opens in a new tab) by 2030. In further positive news, the Climate Action Tracker (pdf) (19 pages, 1.7 MB) released analysis showing that if all countries deliver on their 2050 net-zero pledges, the Paris Agreement’s commitment to limiting temperature increase to 1.5% was ‘in striking distance’. However, that is a big if. Many countries have had mandated climate change targets for decades and yet progress towards reducing emissions has been painfully slow.

While targets can help set an agenda and provide a mechanism for accountability, when the media attention shifts, and before the bandwagon rolls around again, there needs to be action. A target isn’t action – it is the promise of it. With this in mind, the National Audit Office (opens in a new tab) has warned that it will be a ‘colossal challenge’ for the UK to meet its new 68% target. With investment and policy detail still lacking. Moreover, analysis (opens in a new tab) of the UK’s Ten Point Plan (published in November), found that it would only lead to a 53% reduction in emissions (opens in a new tab) by 2030 (assuming it was implemented as planned).

In order to understand the potential for action, we therefore need to get to the assumptions that underpin our decision-making processes and understand the ways in which actors interpret their capacity to affect change. Moving away from a focus on the headline grabbing commitments, to the realities ‘on the ground’. This is the aim of our CREDS project, but also our Call for Papers (opens in a new tab) as part of our panel at the 5th International Conference on Public Policy (opens in a new tab).

To date, there has been little analysis of the ways in which people involved in decision-making and policy implementation understand their responsibilities and opportunities to deliver on low carbon commitments. Moreover, there has been little analysis of the ways in which dynamic interactions across and between types of governance actors (e.g. public and private), policy areas (e.g. transport, energy, manufacturing, housing), and scales of governance and public policy (local through to supra-national) can shape, lock-in, inform, and transform attempts to deliver on carbon commitments. In short, we need to focus on the governance.

Our panel, ‘Governance towards Low Carbon Futures’ (opens in a new tab), is therefore welcoming papers that explore the barriers and opportunities to achieving carbon neutrality from a governance and public policy perspective. It aims to bring together an interdisciplinary group of scholars to advance an empirical contribution to the role of governance dynamics in progress towards low carbon. We welcome a range of methods for this purpose. Moreover, the panel aims to foster the development of theoretical and analytical frameworks for exploring carbon neutrality through utilising lenses primarily, but not exclusively, from political and policy sciences.

We are particularly interested in exploring the following research questions:

  • How are carbon targets interpreted at and across different levels of governance and different policy areas?
  • What are the implications of different framings and problematisations of carbon neutrality for policy action?
  • To what extent do network arrangements (e.g. institutional, social, policy) affect attention on and policy responses towards achieving carbon neutrality?
  • To what extent do institutional and/or social arrangements affect sectoral (e.g. transport, energy, business, manufacturing) policy responses to the carbon agenda and why?

If you are interested in exploring these questions with us, please submit your abstracts here (opens in a new tab). The Call closes on 29 January 2021.

Banner photo credit: Mangopear Creative on Unsplash

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