How can transformative policies be designed and implemented across sector boundaries?

Scholars have compared the quest for policy coordination and coherence with the quest for the philosopher’s stone. This is especially true for national climate policy making, since integrating all sectors really is the key: no sector remains untouched by the impacts of climate change and all sectors can contribute to GHG emissions reductions. However, practitioners and academics alike report central challenges to the design and implementation of a well-coordinated, coherent and sectorally integrated climate policy. First, the structure of public administration is organized in vertical instead of horizontal ways, which produces the notorious “silo-structures”. Second, the interests and priorities of actors in specific sectors, such as energy or land use, oftentimes clash with climate policy objectives. Third, policy capacity and political will are lacking to introduce integrated, boundary spanning policy solutions.

With these challenges in mind, the case of the Mexican energy transition caught our attention. What intrigued us most was that the energy sector was moving in the area of renewable energies towards a more climate friendly path, by pursuing political targets for energy as well as for climate change. An integrated policy solution seemed indeed to be possible.

Throughout the year 2018, we conducted a number of interviews with energy and climate policy actors in Mexico, ranging from political, legislative and state administrative levels, and furthermore capturing opinions and information from private sector and policy advocacy groups. What emerged from these accounts was insightful. For years, actors had worked towards a reform of the Mexican energy sector, which finally resulted in the Mexican law for the energy transition of 2015. This success was made possible by legislators and policy advocacy groups, who understood the need to combine arguments for renewable energy and energy efficiency with the introduction of governance structures for the achievement  of the nationally determined contribution of Mexico. The recipe for success at the national level  was to top up the power of the best arguments with something tangible, namely institutions put in place for a specific and accepted political goal. 

What we did find was that while an integrated policy process is feasible and can lead to legislative decisions for a low carbon development of the energy sector, the administrative process has to follow suit to secure results. Globally, institutional structures concerning energy and climate policy are often rather fragmented, which is also true for Mexico. Despite the existence of a sophisticated governance system for climate change, the administrative integration with the energy sector is not yet established. However, intense negotiation and deliberation need to take place in order to establish the social and legal fabric of an integrated policy approach. Something new has to emerge from two sectors that pursue different goals, use different metrics and perhaps even start off from different assumptions. In this light, the fact that currently in Mexico, the day to day collaboration across sector boundaries, joint decision making on policy goals and instruments, as well as discussion around ambition raising in the energy sector are still hampered, rings an alarm bell. This may prove to be a stumbling block towards achieving the Paris Agreement goals in the energy sector. To address this, in our paper in Climate Policy, we recommend introducing fitting budget instruments, designating cross-cutting responsibilities and mandates as well as raising awareness of the importance of integrated policy making for the achievement of NDC objectives. Our example has shown that the work of policy advocacy groups is invaluable for an integrated policy process: if policy opportunities arise, such groups may be the right ones to seize them by offering targeted policy advice.

Find the full paper.

Mareike Well is PhD candidate at Freie Universität Berlin.

Heiner von Lüpke is Research Associate in the Climate Policy Department,German Institute for Economic Research (DIW Berlin).