Energy transition or transformation? Power and politics in the European natural gas industry’s trasformismo
This paper explores how established natural gas interests responded to climate action in the European Union. Climate policy was initially not anticipated to reduce the role of natural gas in the energy system, if anything, many presumed that it would come to play a larger role. It was widely understood to be the transition fuel, entailing that it could substitute more carbon-intensive source-fuels, such as coal, as society decarbonises.
This narrative complemented natural gas industry incumbents’ other forms of power, including their control over resources, infrastructure, and involvement in the policy-making process. Drawing on these, they presumed that their future was ensured in the shift towards a low carbon energy system. As the EU enhanced climate targets, incumbents were forced to adapt the fuel’s discourse according to the changing context. Incumbents deployed their material, organisational, and discursive power to extend the status quo and accommodate pressure to enact far-reaching change – a process Gramsci refers to as trasformismo. By tracing the natural gas industry’s response to climate action, this paper shows how incumbents draw upon their fuel-specific bases of power and it explores the importance of discourses in shaping the trajectory of the energy transition.