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Socio-technical discourses of European electricity decarbonization: Contesting narrative credibility and legitimacy with quantitative story-telling

Renner, Ansel; Giampietro, Mario

This paper presents an innovative approach to the responsible use of quantitative analysis when dealing with the governance of sustainability. Rather than using complicated models which try to predict and control the future evolution of complex adaptive systems, quantitative story-telling is proposed to check, first of all, the plausibility of proposed policies. As a case study, we check the plausibility of ‘a radical decarbonization of the European economy based on a quick deployment of alternative sources of electrical energy generation’. Although our case study includes a high-level set of quantitative results, it is primarily methodological. The procedure of quantitative story-telling includes: (1) identification of the narratives used to inform policy; (2) identification of the relevant factors determining the feasibility, viability and desirability of expected results; (3) a quantitative analysis which falsifies at least one of these three factors, indicating an implausibility of the expected results; and (4) identification of knowledge gaps in the existing discussions over the issue. The modern European energy system does need an urgent and radical transformation. However, before imposing drastic and ambitious policies, it is essential to check the quality of the diagnosis. Our analysis flags the existence of a few reasons for concern with regard to the current story-telling.

Acknowledgements: A. Renner acknowledges financial support from the Spanish Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport, through the "formación de profesorado universitario" scholarship program (FPU15/03376). Both authors acknowledge financial support by the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under Grant Agreement No. 689669 (MAGIC) and the Spanish Ministry of Science, Innovation and Universities, through the "María de Maeztu" program for Units of Excellence (MDM-2015-0552). A previous version of this work was presented at the SEES 2018 conference. The authors are grateful for the comments of one anonymous reviewer in relation to that same conference and three anonymous journal reviewers. This work only reflects the view of the authors; the funding agencies are not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.
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