Petrochemical transition narratives: Selling fossil fuel solutions in a decarbonizing world

Joachim Peter Tilsted, Alice Mah, Tobias Dan Nielsen, Guy Finkill, Fredric Bauer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Being integral to the fossil-based energy order and as a key driver of multiple and intersecting ecological crises, the petrochemical industry faces increasing pressures to transform. This paper examines how major petrochemical companies navigate these pressures. Drawing from literatures on discursive power, narratives, and neoGramscian political economy, we introduce the concept of narrative realignment as a nuanced iteration of corporate discursive power that reframes problems of and solutions to green transitions. Specifically, we identify and explore common transition-related narratives, analysing climate and sustainability communications from the largest producers in the petrochemical sector. We argue that these strategic narratives portray the petrochemical industry as key to a successful transition and fend off criticisms by reducing them to misunderstandings. This framing works to reduce pressures for deep mitigation while repositioning the industry as part of the solution. Building on these findings, we demonstrate how petrochemical transition narratives relate to but also diverge from the position of fossil fuel extractors. Despite relying on fossil feedstock and being solidly placed in the fossil economy, petrochemical majors increasingly focus on repositioning themselves proactively as transition enablers. The argument illustrates the work of downstream actors to legitimize the existing energy order.
Original languageEnglish
Article number102880
JournalEnergy Research & Social Science
Early online date19 Nov 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2022


  • Petrochemical industry
  • Energy transition
  • Accommodation
  • Discursive power
  • Narratives
  • Hegemony


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