Two transformations are likely to dominate the first half of the twenty-first century. One is the shift in economic power from the West (North America and Western Europe) to the East (China and the East Asian production system). The second is the transition from a high to low carbon economy. The first shift is at an advanced stage; the second at an early stage. In this line of work we discuss how the first shift affects the second. Does the global power shift make the low carbon transformation faster and cheaper?
There are early signs that this might happen. For the past three years, China has been the world’s number one investor in renewable energy and India has had the highest recent growth rate. This suggests an accelerating influence on the part of the rising powers. There is also a cost reducing influence; China has slashed the price of solar panels and pushed down the price of wind turbines. The problem is that China (and to a lesser extent the other rising powers) is also responsible for most of the recent increases in carbon emissions.
So there is no easy answer to our question of how the global power shift affects the low carbon transformation. The way forward lies in unpacking both the power shift and transformation approaches. We have started to do this in two papers:
- China’s Impact on the Global Wind Power Industry
- How Does the Global Power Shift Affect the Low Carbon Transformation?
These papers suggest that China is lowering the technology costs of the transformation. It is too soon to tell whether it also accelerates the speed. We will however continue to work on this issue, paying special attention to the constellation of actors which support and oppose the transformation in the rising powers and in the sinking powers.