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Persistent Problems of Polycentric Governance as a Tool for Improving UK Energy System Governance

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Type: Conference Paper
Author: Melville, Emilia
Conference: Practicing the Commons: Self-Governance, Cooperation and Institutional Change
Location: Utrecht, the Netherlands
Conf. Date: 10-14 July
Date: 2017
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/10535/10366
Sector: Social Organization
Region: Europe
Subject(s): governance
Abstract: "The problems and opportunities of transition to sustainable energy systems constitute one of the primary challenges in governance for sustainable development in general and for decarbonisation and climate policy in particular. Drawing on the work of Elinor and Vincent Ostrom and their collaborators on common-pool resource management and polycentric governance, researchers in the field have been calling recently for systematic attention to be paid to polycentric governance of energy systems (see for example Goldthau, 2014). This paper makes a contribution to this research agenda by examining the extent to which the UK’s electricity infrastructure and associated governance system can be characterised as polycentric, and the ways in which it exhibits common problems of polycentric governance. This study finds that the UK electricity system exhibits some, but not all, of the characteristics proposed by McGinnis (2016), building on V. Ostrom’s (1972) framework, and could therefore be seen as proto-polycentric. There are multiple centres of decision making, but some are more powerful than others. There are overlapping jurisdictions in some cases, such as the supply market, and non-overlapping ones in others, such as the monopoly distribution networks. There is some mutual adjustment, but in many cases actors are bound by rules set by higher authorities, rather than more independent and equal relationships. Institutional relationships are in some ways dynamic, but the creation of new institutional arrangements is constrained by the rules. The outcomes of emergent order and scale economies are limited."

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