Working Paper: EU Climate Benchmarking

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Working Paper: EU Climate Benchmarking

EU Climate Benchmarking: Qualifications, Compromises and Compliance in the UK and Germany

By: Caroline Kuzemko – Energy Policy Group, University of Exeter

EPG Working Paper: 1404


Taking a constructivist IPE approach this paper peers beneath, at least rhetorically committed, discourses on climate change and mitigation in international organisations through an examination of EU climate benchmarking practices. It poses questions about motivations for climate benchmarking, methods used to construct benchmarks and about compliance at the national level in Germany and the UK. An examination of the motivations behind climate benchmarks points, predictably, to the commitment to keeping global warming to 2˚C above pre-industrial level but also a variety of ways in which this new objective has been ‘qualified’ by other normative ideas. Two sets of qualifying ideas are explored here in some detail – ideas about the desirability of economic growth, and its centrality within sustainability, and about climate change being a separable area of governance. It is assumed that climate benchmarks – by embedding targets and measuring compliance will drive certain types of change at the national level. An exploration of the methods used to establish climate benchmarks then reveals how these ideas became embedded thereby allowing and rewarding certain practices over others painting a picture of EU benchmarks as ‘reformist’ but not ‘radical’. Interestingly climate benchmarks are broadened to include measurement of progress towards renewable energy and energy efficiency targets. Finally, analysis of UK and German compliance with EU climate benchmarks reveals the quite highly differentiated and complex politics of compliance – differentiation that is hidden by benchmark measurements. EU climate benchmarks, given their technocratic simplicity, tend also not to reveal the scale of changes inferred in complying with benchmarks – for example in energy systems – nor indeed the degree to which even ‘reformist’ benchmarks are becoming contested. As such the inability of climate benchmarks to ‘see’ the deeply complex politics of compliance may ultimately be to the detriment of both their credibility and potentially their survival.

Keywords: global governance, climate change, benchmarks, energy policy, Germany, UK


Date: April 2014

Download Paper: EU Benchmarking

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