9.1 Promoting Transitions to a Low Carbon Economy: Anticipating the Sticking Points

Andy Gouldson , Sustainability Research Institute, University of Leeds, Leeds, United Kingdom

Promoting Transitions to a Low Carbon Economy: Anticipating the Sticking Points


With appropriate policies and supportive markets, many would hope for a smooth transition to a low carbon economy. Indeed, in some quarters, there has been a considerable degree of optimism that such transitions are technologically and economically viable and that – with the introduction of appropriate policies and the removal of non-market barriers – they can happen relatively easily. However, it seems more likely that there will be a phased evolution towards a low carbon economy, with a number of ‘sticking points’ being encountered along the way. This paper will argue that in the first phase of transition, which roughly coincides with the 20-30% emissions reductions targets set by actors such as the EU for 2020, low carbon options are available that can be politically, socially, economically and technologically viable. However, it will also argue that as these options are exploited, greater challenges are likely to be encountered. Will social learning take place in the first phase of transition that allows these greater challenges to be met in the second phase? Or will the viability of future options diminish as the costs escalate? Two recent examples from the broader environmental policy sphere – one macro and one micro - will be used to illustrate what can happen at this critical juncture, and lessons will be drawn for contemporary debates on policies for a low carbon economy.