Global energy governance has very limited legitimacy in the eyes of most governments. Although the concept has been starting to surface in academic papers it is still barely used in policy discussions. It is contested, almost taboo, to raise the need for international norms around energy production or consumption, although a significant step forward was taken by including energy as one of the Sustainable Development Goals proposed to the UN General Assembly. It is becoming a bit less contested to strengthen international collaboration on renewable energy and energy efficiency. Least controversial are efforts to collaborate around efforts to increase access to modern energy for those who are still deprived thereof.
In this paper I analyse in more detail the present lack of legitimacy of global energy governance and more importantly the possible avenues for strengthening it as this is a prerequisite for the fundamental dimension of society that energy production and consumption constitutes in a new social contract. I take as starting point theories of normative legitimacy that consider its two major components as being input and output legitimacy. I elaborate on the output related arguments to strengthen global energy governance – its role for building a sustainable global energy system and deep energy security – grounded in the principle of subsidiarity. I further explore the necessary elements to ensure input legitimacy of global energy governance relating to participation, transparency and accountability.
Finally I discuss the possible relationship between this normative analysis of the legitimacy of global energy governance and the subjective legitimacy of the same phenomenon among state and non-state actors. The latter is what matters in the negotiations to address energy not only in the Sustainable Development Goals but also in the climate regime.