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A low carbon industrial revolution? Insights and challenges from past technological and economic transformations

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  • Pearson, Peter J.G.
  • Foxon, Timothy J.

Abstract

Recent efforts to promote a transition to a low carbon economy have been influenced by suggestions that a low carbon transition offers challenges and might yield economic benefits comparable to those of the previous industrial revolutions. This paper examines these arguments and the challenges facing a low carbon transition, by drawing on recent thinking on the technological, economic and institutional factors that enabled and sustained the first (British) industrial revolution, and the role of ‘general purpose technologies’ in stimulating and sustaining this and subsequent industrial transformation processes that have contributed to significant macroeconomic gains. These revolutions involved profound, long drawn-out changes in economy, technology and society; and although their energy transitions led to long-run economic benefits, they took many decades to develop. To reap significant long-run economic benefits from a low carbon transition sooner rather than later would require systemic efforts and incentives for low carbon innovation and substitution of high-carbon technologies. We conclude that while achieving a low carbon transition may require societal changes on a scale comparable with those of previous industrial revolutions, this transition does not yet resemble previous industrial revolutions. A successful low carbon transition would, however, amount to a different kind of industrial revolution.

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  • Pearson, Peter J.G. & Foxon, Timothy J., 2012. "A low carbon industrial revolution? Insights and challenges from past technological and economic transformations," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 50(C), pages 117-127.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:enepol:v:50:y:2012:i:c:p:117-127
    DOI: 10.1016/j.enpol.2012.07.061
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