ENVS 426

Policy Diffusion in the European Union

In the context of international climate governance, the European Union is a world climate leader. In fact, the EU generates 3 times more renewable energy per person than anywhere else in the world.  How do they achieve such ambitious goals?

POLICY DIFFUSION is one of the least costly and most effective ways to encourage the adoption of renewable energy in the European Union change. “Diffusion” simply refers to when policies are communicated and shared between countries. This is a perfect tool to speed up the achievement of critical goals, like emissions reductions to reduce the impacts of climate change.

Today, I want to talk about cross-national (meaning transferring from one EU member state to another) renewable energy policy diffusion. 

It is common for green leaders, like Germany and France to share their policies with less progressive states, like Greece or Poland. However, it isn’t always as easy as picking up the phone to share best practices, because nations (naturally) have individual interests that can hinder their cooperation. If you want more detail on this concept, check out the white paper I wrote, which includes recommendations to accelerate renewable energy policy diffusion.

The infographic below illustrates the mechanisms by which the European Union’s 28 member states diffuse policies to accelerate the transition to renewable energy.



The hot air balloons demonstrate how feed-in-tariff mechanisms, green certificates, and other renewable energy support instruments have traveled between countries.

In energy policy-making, member states are required to respond to centralized directives, like the 2030 Energy Strategy (pictured in the middle of the earth), which sets the overall renewable energy generation goal to 27% and also requires states to submit national plans to contribute to the target.  Though the EU sets the target, member states have autonomy to decide their own strategy for contributing, known as effort-sharing. The top-down nature of climate & energy policy-making, through the 2030 strategy and the 2020 Climate & Energy Package, facilitates unique opportunities for collaborations between member states.

The 2030 Energy Strategy is not to be confused with the more globally-oriented Agenda 2030, which refers to the United Nation Development Program’s plan to achieve the 17 sustainable development goals. On an international scale, there is a shared effort to align climate targets from the Paris Agreement with the intention to end poverty, fight inequality, and tackle climate change.

It makes a lot of sense to me for EU members states to try to work together to deliver on these joint goals. For example, Germany and France successfully rejected the EU’s attempt to unilaterally establish green certificate mechanism. The two countries did not want to start over and adopt a EU-wide system, when they had already done the hard work of establishing feed-in tariffs. If you had just spent 3 hour re-organizing a bookshelf alphabetically, and you were suddenly asked to do it by color, wouldn’t you be upset about the prospect of starting over?  Instead of starting over, Germany and France successfully lobbied for the diffusion of feed-in-tariffs as the preferred renewable energy support mechanism. 

Member states can form partnerships and learn from each other’s mistakes to rise even higher than they could independently. As Virginie Dumoulin, a French delegate shared with me at the COP, the EU is a “wonderful experiment” in governance that enables impressive climate leadership!

Hear from Virginie Doumoulin, Head of European Partnerships for the French Ministry of the Environment, in the podcast below, where she sheds light on the commitments to renewable energy made by member states. 


Talking with Virginie Dumoulin, a French party delegate, was such a special privilege. She is an extremely accomplished woman. It is amazing to see the commitment and expertise of European delegates.

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