Research Project: The Law of Energy Transition across Europe and in the European Union 

I. «Energy Transition» in Europe

In order to provide for sustainable and secure energy supply many European countries have embraced a concept, which is becoming known as «Energy Transition». This brought forward a degree of convergence among the different energy policies across Europe, especially with regard to: the development of new and renewable forms of energy, efforts to increase energy savings and energy efficiencies, and the gradual withdrawal from carbon-intensive fossil fuels. Significant differences, however, remain, in particular regarding the choice between different energy sources («energy mix»).

As part of the agreement of the Paris climate conference (COP21), held from 30 November to 11 December 2015, the European Union (EU) committed itself to domestic reduction in greenhouse gas emmisions of at least 40 percent compared to 1990 levels by 2030, whereas Switzerland pledged itself to decrease its domestic emissions by 50 percent within said period. In the medium term, the EU aims for reducing greenhouse gas emmissions to 80-95 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. These energy strategies, drafted at different levels of multi-layered governance, frequently cause policy objectives to collide (rf. inter alia CJEU, Case C-573/12, Ålands Vindkraft AB v Energimyndigheten, judgment of 1 July 2014). Outside the EU, Norway contributes to European energy security while pursuing ambitious targets to reduce CO2-emissions. Switzerland adopted a policy called «Energy Strategy 2050», aiming inter alia at gradually withdrawing from the use of nuclear energy and increasing energy efficiency. As European electricity and natural gas markets are integrating, both Norway and Switzerland will need gradually to attune their policies with those embarked upon in the EU.

The obligations of both International and European Environmental and Energy Law are, however, not the only forces driving the current transitional processes on the different levels of governance. Rather, both technological innovations such as liquefied natural gas (LNG), hydraulic fracturing («fracking») and so-called «smart grids» offsetting increased voltage fluctuations, as well as the increased tensions between the EU and the Russian Federation contesting Europe’s dependence upon Russian natural gas are major factors forging Europe’s «Energy Transition».

II. Project: Research Objectives, Design, and Progression

Against this backdrop, the overall aim of the outlined Research Project is to further scientific, and particularly legal, analysis and knowledge, in a politically and technically complex area. This includes the following: synopsis and appraisal of national processes of energy transition, interdisciplinary sharing of current research (in particular, defining characteristic features of the current transitions, e.g. phasing out nuclear energy; schemes promoting energy production from renewable sources; stimulating the consumption of «green» energy), assessment of the interplay between international, European Union and domestic Law (both Private and Public) within and outside the EU; and definition of regulatory best practices which may be useful for policy recommendations. The distinguishing feature of the Research Project lies in its genuinely international, multidisciplinary, flexible and lean character, bringing together scholars in International and European Union Environmental and Energy Law complemented by experts from neighbouring disciplines.

III. Project Leaders

  • Professor Angus Johnston, B.A. (Oxon.), B.C.L. (Oxon.), LL.M. (Leiden), Professor of Law and Fellow in Law at University College, University of Oxford
  • Professor Dr Johannes Reich, LL.M. (Yale), Assistant Professor of Constitutional Law and Administrative Law, Faculty of Law, University of Zurich
  • Professor Dr Johannes Saurer, LL.M. (Yale), Full Professor, Chair of Public Law, Administrative Law, Infrastructure Law and Environmental Law, Faculty of Law, Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen

IV. Step 1: International Exploratory Workshop: Pathways to a Sustainable Energy Sector

The workshop, bringing together thirteen scholars from across Europe, took place at University of Tübingen on 12/13 March 2015. The event was open to the public.

Speakers and Programme (PDF, 398 KB)

Venue: University of Tübingen, Neue Aula, Geschwister-Scholl-Platz, 72074 Tübingen, Germany

Financial support from the Tübingen School for Sustainabilityfunded by the Ministry of Science, Research and the Arts Baden-Württemberg is gratefully acknowledged.

IV. Step 2: Edited volume: Mapping the Law of Energy Transition in Europe – Pathways towards a Sustainable Energy Sector 

Editors: Angus Johnston, Johannes Reich, Johannes Saurer

Publisher: Edward Elgar Publishing, Cheltenham, UK

Expected date of publication: Winter 2016/2017

Concept: The book strives to provide a comprehensive overview of how the obligation to shape energy policy in a more sustainable and secure manner has influenced the legal framework of the different layers of European governance in a politically and technically complex area, and how the pre-existing legal frameworks (at EU and national levels) have had an impact upon achieving those goals.

Table of contents: 

1. LEGAL, TECHNICAL AND POLITICAL FRAME CONDITIONS

a) General Introduction: Sustainability and Energy Transition in Europe

b) Sustainability and Energy Transition in the EU – Assessment and the Way Forward

c) Preconditions of Sustainability in the Energy Sector from the Perspective of Energy Science and Technology

d) European Integration, Energy and Climate Change from an International Relations-Perspective

e) Sustainability and Energy Transition Law – the Framework of WTO-Law

2. COUNTRY REPORTS

a) EU Member States

b) European nation states outside the EU

3. CONCLUSION AND ASSESSMENT