Asian Approaches to Environmental Innovation and Sustainability Transitions

The world’s economies must shift to a climate-neutral and resource-efficient state, otherwise climate change, environmental degradation and the loss of biodiversity will reach catastrophic dimensions. The fast pace at which natural systems deteriorate means that economic transition is urgent and needs to speed up dramatically. However, the shift towards climate-neutral and resource saving economies must not be pushed at the expense of social cohesion because a broad support for the transition will be needed.

Recent research has highlighted that a successful transition towards climate-neutral and resource-efficient processes requires ecological innovations (environmentally friendly products, services, and infrastructures) and promoting them so that they replace existing technologies.

Geographers’ empirical research on ecological innovation and sustainability transitions has often focused on regional cases and supportive actor-constellations found in advanced economies. Innovations developed in advanced economies, however, respond to local high-wage / high-tech conditions and thus tend to diffuse only slowly to poorer regions, making them much less effective in the global efforts to combat environmental degradation quickly. From an Economic Geography perspective, it thus seems promising and necessary to focus much more on innovations and transition pathways explored in non-Western regional contexts.

This proposal argues that Asian regions provide particularly interesting examples for studying alternative approaches to environmental innovation and sustainability transitions. Many of them – urban and rural - face enormous pressure from ecological degradation, while local innovation processes tend to focus on the needs of less-wealthy populations. Moreover, the competition between Chinese-inspired innovation that combines a top-down policy approach with local experimentation and the Indian-inspired bottom-up approaches, plus manifold other factors that influence distinct pathways of transition, make an Asia-centered perspective timely and significant.

The Special Session might accommodate presentations on topics such as

Conceptually, it will be important to discuss the relevance of Asian approaches for the field of geographical eco-innovation and transitions research. In terms of political implications, it will be interesting to explore how geographically informed examinations of Asian approaches may stimulate policy and planning worldwide.