An Overlooked Giant – A Roundtable on Petrochemicals and Climate Governance

  • Bauer, F. (Chair)
  • Alice Mah (Member of panel)
  • Diana Barrowclough (Member of panel)
  • Carolyn Deere Birkbeck (Member of panel)
  • Tobias Nielsen (Member of panel)

Activity: Talk or presentationPresentation


In this session we will shed light on the petrochemical sector, its relationship to the fossil fuel extraction sector and to climate change, as well as map the interlinking regimes that make up fragmented global governance of petrochemicals and explore agency and the role of various types of agents in facilitating a low-carbon transition for the petrochemical sector. Thus, this innovative session is not only about highlighting the climate and environmental impacts of petrochemical sector, but also about how to govern societal and environmental transformations of this industry.

Petrochemicals include a range of products that our society depends on, from pharmaceuticals to plastics and fertilizers. It is the single largest industrial energy consumer with a demand for about 14% of primary oil and 8% of primary gas and the third largest industrial CO2 emitting sector. Petrochemicals cut across various value chains, yet are an understudied sector, and this is even more so the case in the context of climate change. This is particularly pronounced regarding to the role of fossil fuel companies in the expansion of petrochemical production. The tendency to overlook petrochemicals and their relationship with climate change is mirrored on the level of international governance. While public and private governance architectures addressing climate, agriculture, trade, development, investment and plastics all are relevant to petrochemicals, they hardly ever address petrochemicals directly and its relationship to climate change. Thus, the governance of petrochemicals constitutes a case of a governance architecture with a high degree of complexity (in terms of the number of regime complexes involved) but also with an “empty centre” in terms of no governance efforts directly addressing petrochemicals or their relationship to climate change. The complex and indirect governance of petrochemicals may hinder the societal transformation towards sustainability and thus need more attention from scholars in the ESG community.
Period2021 Sept 7
Event title2021 Bratislava Conference on Earth System Governance
Event typeConference
Degree of RecognitionInternational

UKÄ subject classification

  • Social Sciences Interdisciplinary