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Sussex and Chinese researchers unite to explore lessons in low carbon innovation

China has already thrown state support behind electric vehicles. Image: Marco Bono

Can Chinese innovation help address the climate crisis?

New research involving academics from Sussex will explore lessons for low carbon innovation in collaboration with colleagues from China, now the world’s biggest producer of greenhouse gases.

The unique collaboration involves the universities of Sussex and Lancaster, the School of Oriental and African Studies in London and Tsinghua University and the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Centre for Chinese Agricultural Policy in China.

The ESRC-funded project ‘Low Carbon Innovation in China – Prospects, Politics and Practice’ will investigate the social and political drivers and implications of low-carbon innovation in China, rather than focusing on technical change alone.

The researchers 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.

The Sussex team, based at SPRU Science and Technology Policy Research, has a history of working on innovation for sustainability in China and beyond. The new project is affiliated with the ESRC STEPS Centre, an international research and engagement hub focusing on Social, Technological and Environmental Pathways to Sustainability. 

The Centre previously hosted bilateral discussions on UK-China innovation for sustainable and equitable development and continues to work with a number of leading Chinese institutions on agriculture, health and environmental issues.

To mitigate climate change worldwide, governments need to transform the way we power our homes, travel and feed the planet’s ever-growing population. Nowhere is the approach to innovation across these sectors more crucial than in China, whose decisions on this will impact the rest of the world.

China has already thrown state support behind electric vehicles, solar energy and next-generation agricultural technologies and has seen bottom-up successes in electric two-wheelers, solar thermal and agro-ecological farming – so now is the time, say the researchers, to understand the crucial impact of social and political issues on the successes and failures of low carbon innovations.

Dr Adrian Ely, who leads the Sussex team says: “Collaborating with Chinese colleagues on shared challenges such as these is vital not only to inform better policy but to enhance mutual understanding of the different social and political issues facing each country.

“While it is often criticised as the world's largest CO2 emitter at a national level, China remains a key partner in the global effort to mitigate climate change.”

Dr Ely co-authored a Guardian article with Lancaster colleague David Tyfield to coincide with David Cameron's recent visit to Beijing that argued for learning between the two countries.

Dr Tyfield, Co-Investigator of the project, says: "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.

“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,” Dr Tyfield added.

The three-year project is led by Professor John Urry at Lancaster University.

Notes to Editors

For more information: Julia Day, Communications Manager / +44 (0)7974 209148

About SPRU: SPRU is a world-leading centre for research, consultancy and teaching in the field of science, technology and innovation policy and management, and the largest centre of its kind worldwide. In 2012, it was named the UK’s number one science and technology think tank by the University of Pennsylvania’s Global Go-To Think Tank project.

University of Sussex Press office contacts: Press officers Maggie Clune and Jacqui Bealing can be contacted via or call +44 (0)1273 678 888.

The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK's largest organisation for funding research on economic and social issues. It supports independent, high quality research which has an impact on business, the public sector and the third sector. The ESRC's total budget for 2012/13 is £205 million. At any one time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions.

Last updated: Wednesday, 15 January 2014