16 January 2014 07:25

Sociologists at Lancaster University are leading an international research project, launching this week, which explores lessons for 'low carbon innovation' from the world's biggest polluter.

The £500k UK-China collaboration will look into the implications of low-carbon ‘transitions’ in China, the world's largest carbon dioxide emitter.

To mitigate climate change worldwide we need to transform the way we power our homes, travel and feed the planet's ever-growing population. Decisions made in China on these issues are crucial as they will have an impact on the rest of the world.

With China throwing state support behind electric vehicles, solar energy and next-generation agricultural technologies, where bottom-up successes in electric two-wheelers, solar thermal and agro-ecological farming have also emerged, now is the time to understand the crucial impact of social and political issues on the successes and failures of low carbon innovations.

The Economic and Social Research Council-funded project 'Low Carbon Innovation in China – Prospects, Politics and Practice' will offer in-depth academic analysis seeking to inform opportunities for low-carbon transitions in China and beyond, with case studies spanning energy, mobility and agriculture.

Dr David Tyfield, Co-Investigator of the project, said: "The success or failure of low carbon innovations rests not on how superior the technology is, but on how people use the technology and the issues of power that surround it.

“Sometimes the most productive innovations do not involve high-tech. For example, electric vehicles are a top government priority in China but they’re just not selling. Conversely, putting an electric motor on a bike is cheap available technology but it’s a runaway success. It’s not new technologically but the way it is being used has potential to change the way people live their lives.

"This project is exploring these crucial social dynamics where they are arguably of greatest significance for global prospects of a 21st century shift to sustainability: China."

This new three-year project is an international collaboration between researchers in the UK and at leading institutions in China, led by Professor John Urry at Lancaster University.