Decarbonising industrial regions: the importance of dialogue processes with industry

Author: Dr Daniel Vallentin, Wuppertal Institute
Reading time: 4 minutes
14 May 2018

The Energy Transition Platform initiates stakeholder dialogue and learning by bringing together 11 industrial regional governments from around the world on the transition to a low carbon future. The Energy Transition Platform is led by The Climate Group as part of the Under2 Coalition, and funded by Stiftung Mercator.

In April 2018, the regions within the Energy Transition Platform met in Essen, Germany, to exchange experiences on facilitating low carbon change. One breakout session focused on potential success factors for engaging industry stakeholders in dialogue processes.

The Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy has significant experience in stakeholder processes and trans-disciplinary projects, and in this blog Dr Daniel Vallentin – Head Berlin Office and Project Coordinator at the Wuppertal Insitute – shares the success factors that emerged from the discussion.

Designing dialogue processes with industry

First the target group of stakeholders needs to be mapped out. Which stakeholders should be addressed? What is their role in the process? What expertise and capacity do they bring to the table? In order to attract these stakeholders to the project and create ownership among them, they should be officially invited by the highest possible hierarchical level of the convening organisation, such as the responsible Minister or Head of Authority.

A consistent and tangible narrative, which is used by all representatives of the convening Ministry or Authority, is key to enable a constructive dialogue and keep stakeholders on board. It should emphasise the opportunities arising from the stakeholders’ engagement and potential alternative pathways for high carbon regions.

Stakeholders should have a clear idea what they gain in participating in the process and what they miss if they don’t. They also should understand what the potential impact of their contribution might be. What is the actual product of the dialogue process? What impact does it have on regulatory action that might affect their company? This means that the outcomes of the dialogue process need to be clearly defined and transparent.

Getting the right people round the table

The mix of expertise, viewpoints and interests in the conversation has an enormous influence on the course and success of the dialogue process. Organisations are not monolithic blocs. Instead, their staff and experts might have different views on decarbonisation – some are open and see the need for change, others don’t. This means that representatives of industry companies who could be change agents and are located at key positions within their organisation need to get involved.

It needs to be understood which know-how is required to achieve the desired outcomes of the dialogue process, and at which points of the process it has to be in the room. Does the process require in-depth knowledge on specific technologies or processes? In this case, people with in-depth expertise need to be engaged. Does the process require decision-making power? And if so: in which phases of the dialogue should high-level decision-makers be on board?

The answer is: to achieve a successful dialogue and learning process, there needs to be a careful mapping of stakeholders and individuals within the involved companies or authorities.

Doing it – conducting dialogue processes

Conducting a dialogue with industries and politics about controversial topics such as decarbonisation, which come along with high economic and social risks, requires an experienced moderator who is trusted by all participants. They should act as a broker among conflicting interests and continuously guide participants through the process. To enable a constructive and fact-based discussion, it is important to work with a knowledge base, which is accepted by all participants. It will get participants to all agree on one scenario pathway or study. Trying this is likely to be a time-consuming deadlock. However, comparative assessments of several relevant scenarios – from industry-friendly to “green” scenarios – might help to show the range of possible emission pathways and mitigation requirements.

Such analyses and working papers need to be sent to the participating stakeholders well in advance of the next dialogue session, as they will need to define their position internally. So good time management is another success factor for dialogue processes with industries. 

Even more importantly, dialogue processes need to be designed in a flexible way with sufficient time to settle conflicts or discuss complex questions which come up during the process. Most of these issues cannot be solved in one or two hours. It requires specific working groups or workshops to discuss them in detail. Therefore, a “breathing” process design is important for such workshops.

These factors should help to successfully engage industry in dialogues with regional Ministries or authorities to advance a transformation towards decarbonisation. However, to be clear: discussing decarbonisation with stakeholders that consider themselves to be negatively affected by change is challenging, and success is not guaranteed. It strongly depends on specific conditions in the involved regions involved.

At the end of the day, the dialogue process may only lead to progress for decarbonisation if there is a high level of commitment of all stakeholders involved and, even more, the recognition that change is needed.   

Find out more about the Energy Transition Platform and the climate action achieved so far.

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