Achieving a radical and swift transition to low carbon energy remains a pressing challenge for Australia and the globe. Despite aspirations under the Finkel Review for lower emissions and orderly transitions, sporadic policy and international commitments are falling short of delivering accessible, reliable and affordable low carbon supplies of energy, in ways that minimise impacts on ecosystems and the environment.
Australia is not alone in this conundrum. Calls for radical transitions from high to low carbon energy sources are widespread, and arise at multiple levels, including the Governor of the Bank of England, the Extinction Rebellion, the Sustainable Development Goals, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. And yet, efforts to realise significant energy transitions continue to confront major obstacles. Dominant private and public players persistently slow or block change. Controversial hydrocarbon bridging fuels, like unconventional gas, also continue to expand in the name of energy reliability and affordability. And even where renewable developments shift from being niche to mainstream power sources, concerns are increasingly raised about their impacts on the environment, biodiversity, food and water. At the heart of all these issues are law and governance, which have been intense sites of contestation over the nature and outcomes of regulating energy transitions and their environmental nexus.
At this critical juncture, this Special Issue of the Environmental and Planning Law Journal (EPLJ Vol 36 Part 5), compiled by Guest Editor, Professor Cameron Holley (UNSW Sydney and PLuS Alliance Fellow) brings together the contributions of leading environmental and energy law and governance experts to distil insights from Australia and the globe and examine two core questions:
1. what has been the role of law in governing energy transitions; and
2. what law and governance mechanisms might be needed to better govern energy transitions and their nexus with the environment?
Reflecting the multifaceted causes of persistent carbon intensive energy lock-ins, as well as the many emerging forms of institutional innovation and actors seeking to destabilise and change dominant energy regimes to advance lower carbon energy sources, this Special Issue analyses a range policy and law parameters, including:
- the ability of international environmental law and the Paris Climate Agreement to facilitate an urgent transition to an alternative, de-carbonised, and more sustainable global energy paradigm
- the role of corporate law tools in energy transition governance (e.g. disclosure of business risks, directors’ duties and shareholder resolutions)
“territorial” models for allocating responsibility for climate harms and the moral responsibility of fossil fuel-exporting States
- comparative lessons from New South Wales, Queensland, the United States and South America on governing unconventional gas transitions (e.g. strategic planning, risk management, managing transboundary and cumulative effects, and responding to risks of regulatory capture)
- the potential of new informational tools to influence more environmentally sustainable transitions (e.g. quantifying the water use of different energy sources to influence consumer behaviour)
The Introduction to this Special Issue – Governing Energy Transitions: Unconventional Gas, Renewables and their Environmental Nexus (by Cameron Holley, Amanda Kennedy, Tariro Mutongwizo and Clifford Shearing) provides a brief overview and synthesises lessons from each article featured:
- International Environmental Law and the Anthropocene’s Energy Dilemma –Louis J Kotzé
- Governing the Energy Transition: The Role of Corporate Law Tools – Jacqueline Peel, Anita Foerster, Brett McDonnell and Hari M Osofsky
- Complicity in Climate Harms: A Case Study of Australia’s Gas Export Industry – J Moss and E Walsh
- Smart Planning for Unconventional Oil and Gas Development – Mark Squillace
- Fracking and Transboundary Water Management – Rhett B Larson
- Shaping Unconventional Gas Regulation: Industry Influence and Risks of Agency Capture in Texas, Colorado and Queensland – Cameron Holley, Tariro Mutongwizo, Clifford Shearing and Amanda Kennedy
- Big Time: An Empirical Analysis of Regulating the Cumulative Environmental Effects of Coal Seam Gas Extraction under Australian Federal Environmental Law – Rebecca Nelson
- Coal Seam Gas Regulation in New South Wales: Drawing the Connections Between Risk, Communication and Trust – Katherine Owens
- More Joules per Drop – How Much Water Does Unconventional Gas Use Compared to Other Energy Sources and What Are the Legal Implications? – Wendy A Timms, Sudeep Nair and Rebecca Nelson
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