Avoiding Environmental Convergence: A Possible Role for Sustainability Experiments in Latecomer Countries?

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Frans Berkhout
Anna J. Wieczorek
Rob Raven


Global sustainability is increasingly influenced by economic growth and social change in non-OECD countries, especially in Asia. Growth models suggest that industrializing economies will become frst relatively more resource- and pollution-intensive, before becoming more resource-effcient and less polluting, following the pattern of higher-income economies. This ‘environmental convergence’ is assumed to parallel economic convergence during processes of catching-up by latecomer countries. To accelerate environmental convergence, or to achieve pathways of ‘green growth’, greater emphasis needs to be placed on sustainable innovation and capability-building in latecomer countries. Drawing on insights from system innovation research on long-run change in socio-technical systems, we discuss the potential role of ‘sustainability experiments’ to generate innovations that will constitute new ‘greener’ growth models. We observe a great number of sustainabilityoriented innovation initiatives in latecomer countries. We set out a conceptual framework for assessing the role of experiments, and for evaluating how they link with and become anchored in alternative more sustainable regimes. We argue that sustainability experiments represent a potentially signifcant new source of innovation and capability-formation, linked to global knowledge and technology flows, which could influence emergent socio-technical regimes and thereby contribute to alternative development pathways.


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