Monday, 9 January 2012

Can the Rising Powers save our planet?

By Hubert Schmitz

Are the changes we observed in the world in 2011 leading to changes in the 2012 research agenda here at IDS? I think they should. 

I suggest that we pose a question which few of us would have thought sensible a year ago: Can the Rising Powers (China, India, Brazil) save our planet?

The Rising Powers and climate change

This may seem a surprising question given that the Rising Powers (in particular China) are responsible for the recent net increases in carbon emissions.  There are, however, indications that China, India and Brazil are now making major investments in climate change mitigation, largely because government and enterprises seek to establish competitive green industries. Given recent changes in the world economy this is of great significance.

The old industrial powers had expected to lead the green transformation, invest heavily in the green economy and revive job growth, but this now looks unlikely. With the partial exception of Germany, the old powers are stagnating economically and paralysed politically. In contrast, the Rising Powers show increasing confidence on the world stage and are set for continued growth.

Such diverging trends are bound to affect the dynamics of the green transformation. The capability to invest in green innovation is high and rising in the new powers, in both their public and private sectors. This contrasts with the high public indebtedness in the old powers and the patchy investment capacity in the private sector. The diverging capacities of the old and new powers have been visible for some time but the ramifications for the green transformation have only become clear (to me) more recently - while I was working with colleagues from India, China and the German Development Institute.

What does this mean for our research agenda?

I would suggest a collaborative programme examining the propositions
  • That China, India and Brazil have greater transformative power
  • That they can therefore provide quicker and cheaper solutions
  • And that - given their own factor endowment – they can provide solutions that are more appropriate for the income-poor and energy-poor countries of the world. 
I guess the outcome will differ by country and sector but that there will probably be a big net effect on whether and how the green transformation takes place. 

I think this will be a big and hot topic for quite a few years – too big for any single institute to take on. The first step will be most difficult: defining researchable questions and hypotheses.