INSIGHTS | POLICY FORUM
electric utilities, agrofood, and steel), which
will fight to protect their vested economic
and political interests.
Phase-out policies can take several forms
(15): bans or regulations that stipulate emission reductions from specific technologies
or sectors; targeted financial incentives to
encourage decarbonization; or removal of
implicit or explicit subsidies for high-carbon
systems, which globally range from $1.9 to
$5.3 trillion per year (16). Whatever policies
are used, it is important to consider transitional strategies such as phased tightening of regulations, financial compensation,
retraining of personnel, or redevelopment
programs for disadvantaged regions (17).
Such policies may reduce the likelihood of
resistance to transitions. Dutch policy-makers, for instance, alleviated the disruption
of the 1960s transition from coal to gas by
retraining miners and assisting the state-owned company’s transformation to a
chemicals firm (18). Unassisted UK mine
closures, in contrast, disrupted entire communities in the 1980s, creating persistent
social problems. Similar fears are presently
motivating U.S. and German coal mining
communities to resist low-carbon transitions, leading to political backlashes.
General policy implications for accelerated
low-carbon transitions can be derived from
the above lessons. First, innovation is a cru-
cial accelerator, although not just because
it can improve technological price and
performance characteristics of low-carbon
technologies. Innovation can also open up
new markets, disrupt existing systems, gal-
vanize public enthusiasm around positive
visions, and build social and business coa-
litions that in the longer term may support
stronger climate policies. Sector-specific
innovation policy is therefore at least as
important as economy-wide climate policy
and may in fact enable it (9). Innovation
policies (R&D subsidies, feed-in-tariffs,
demonstration projects, and adoption sub-
sidies) are also more feasible politically
than economy-wide carbon taxes, because
the former provide concentrated benefits,
whereas the latter impose costs on many
voters and industries (8).
Second, low-carbon innovation policy
should focus not only on R&D and financial incentives but also on experimentation,
learning, stakeholder involvement, social
acceptance, positive discourses, and opportunities for new entrants. Without sufficient
societal and business support, it is difficult to
accelerate or sustain low-carbon transitions
for long periods.
Third, stronger alignments are necessary
between innovation policy and sector-spe-
cific policy (in electricity, heat, transport, and
urban planning) to explore the potential of in-
teracting technologies and systems, through
both foresight methods and on-the-ground
demonstration projects. Polycentric efforts
in particular, which connect and align scales,
actors, and responsibilities, tend to be more
effective than efforts contained to one scale.
Fourth, since the emergence of innova-
tions takes time, accelerated low-carbon
transitions also involve actively phasing out
existing systems. This requires careful politi-
cal attention to the social and distributional
consequences of decarbonization.
Policy-oriented research on deep decarbonization requires complementing model-based
analysis with sociotechnical research.
Whereas the former analyzes technically feasible least-cost pathways, the latter addresses
innovation processes, business strategies, social acceptance, cultural discourses, and political struggles, which are difficult to model
but crucial in real-world transitions. Although full integration of both approaches is
not possible, bridging strategies may enable
iterative interactions in which models provide techno-economic checks of qualitative
narratives, while sociotechnical approaches
provide wider feasibility checks on model
outcomes (19). Such analyses may underpin
the development and implementation of
policy strategies that are both cost-effective
and sociopolitically feasible. j
REFERENCES AND NOTES
1. P. C. Stern, B. K. Sovacool, T. Dietz, Nat. Clim. Chang. 6, 547
2. F. W.Geels,J. W.Schot, Res. Policy 36,399(2007).
3. F. W. Geels et al ., Res. Policy 45, 896 (2016).
4. B. Obama, Science 355, 126 (2017).
5. B.K.Sovacool,J.Axsen, W.Kempton, Ann. Rev. Env.
Resour. 42, 16.1 (2017); https://doi.org/10.1146/
6. H. Lundetal.,Energy68, 1 (2014).
7. F.Creutzig et al., Nat. Clim. Chang.6,1054(2016).
8. L. Hughes, J. Urpelainen, Environ. Sci. Policy 54, 52 (2015).
9. J.Meckling, N.Kelsey, E.Biber,E.J.Zysman, Science 349,
10. T. S. Schmidt, S. Sewerin, Nat. Energ. 2, 17084 (2017).
11. M. A. Brown, B. K. Sovacool, Climate Change and Global
Energy Security: Technology and Policy Options (MIT
12. P. O. Eikeland, T. H. J. Inderberg, Energ. Res. Soc. Sci. 11, 164
13. S. J. Davis, R. H. Socolow, Environ. Res. Lett.9, 111001
14. B. Turnheim, F. W. Geels, Energ. Policy 50, 35 (2012).
15. P. Kivimaa, F. Kern, Res. Policy 45, 205 (2016).
16. B. K. Sovacool, Ecol.Econ. 135, 150 (2017).
17. J.J.Cordes,B.A. Weisbrod, J. Policy Anal. Manage. 4,178
18. V.V.Moharir, Process of Public Policy-Making in the
Netherlands: A Case Study of the Dutch Government’s
Policy for Closing Down the Coal Mines in South Limburg,
1965-1975 (The Hague, Institute of Social Studies, 1979).
19. F. W. Geels, F. Berkhout, D. Van Vuuren, Nat. Clim. Change 6,
The authors are appreciative of the Research Councils United
Kingdom (RCUK) Energy Program Grant EP/K011790/1, the
Danish Council for Independent Research (DFF) Sapere Aude
Grant 4182-00033B, and the European Union’s Horizon 2020
research and innovation programme grant agreement no.
730403, which have supported elements of the work reported
here. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do
not necessarily reflect the views of RCUK Energy Program, the
DFF, or the European Union.
put pressure on existing
systems, creating window
of opportunity for niche
Phase 4 Phase 3 Phase 2 Phase 1
Entry and exit of
trial and error
support Window of opportunity
internal momentum and
takes advantage of window
of opportunity, triggering
adjustments in existing
Foster innovations to take advantage of windows of opportunity
Internal and external forces pressure the existing system, which can realign around maturing innovations