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UK-China Networks of Low Carbon Innovation

Project Leader: John Urry

Co-investigators: James Wilsdon and Brian Wynne

Research Associate: David Tyfield

Project Description

Tackling climate change is demanding international collaboration in innovation, yet there are significant constraints on such collaborations. This project is examining low carbon partnerships between the UK and China to identify the factors that promote and impede their success and the capacity for "disruptive" innovation on a global scale.

The anthropogenic rise of global temperatures is now an imminent and grave danger. Yet as the problem of global scope, it is equally clear that action must be genuinely global. Such global coordination, however, demands a climate of international cooperation and collaboration, i.e. a broadly "cosmopolitan" context in which efforts are optimally balanced between the demands of the global totality and local/national needs. In the age of "globalisation" major trends support the emergence of this cosmopolitan order. But there are also significant social forces driving in the very opposite direction. In particular, the global political economy is entering a period of turbulence and transition. And the potential for an isolationist backlash, sinking any possibility of tackling climate change, is large. Avoiding this scenario demands understanding current social trends and the conditions needed for movement in the other direction. One issue in particular is the point of convergence for many of these trends, so that analysis of it is likely to yield important insights. This issue is international collaborations with China in "low carbon" innovation.

First, as the "engine" of current economic growth, innovation must play a crucial role in remodelling the economy, though this "disruptive" innovation will also involve social and policy innovation. Secondly, the rise of China is undoubtedly the biggest transition in the global economy. But China's industrial and vehicle emissions have risen commensurately. Yet this growth has raised some 200 million people out of poverty and China's political stability is inextricably tied to its continuation. China is thus increasingly a crucial part of the global problem... and thus a central element of any global solution. China's innovation capabilities are rapidly improving but there remain some major weaknesses. If China is to "leapfrog" to a sustainable economy, then, international collaboration will be essential. These collaborations, however, face significant constraints, from both the global trends discussed above and conditions within China and the UK/EU, along with the differences and tensions between the "civic epistemologies" of these partners. This project is examining these conditions, and thereby engaging with recent rich theoretical debates about cosmopolitanism, as well as work between innovation policy and science & technology studies that is supplementing research on the scale and speed of innovation with reflections on its direction, purposes and expected outcomes.

Project Outputs

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  • 'Risk, Finance & Modernity: East and West' to be held in Shanghai, September 2009, organized with Wang Xiaming (Shanghai University), Scott Lash (Goldsmiths) and John Driffill (Birkbeck). Speakers include Ulrich Beck (LSE and Munich), Gilles St Paul (USS Toulouse), Wang Hui (Tsinghua) and Xu Chenggang (LSE). For more information please see the workshop website:

  • China-UK Workshop on Chinese Low-Carbon Innovation' to be held in Hangzhou, November 2009, organized with Zhejiang University and funded by DIUS (the UK Government's Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills). Speakers include Rebecca Willis (Sustainable Development Commission), David Vincent (Carbon Trust) and Chen Dongmei (WWF China). For more information please see the workshop invitation:


Presentations and Podcasts

  • Tyfield, D. (2009) 'Financing Low Carbon China' at Working with China on Sustainable Growth - The Climate Change, Environment, Energy Nexus, Wilton Park, 9th October 2009:
  • Tyfield, D. (2009) 'China, Low Carbon and Global Social Change' at Risk, Finance and Modernization: East and West, Shanghai, 29th September 2009:
  • David Tyfield in conversation with Paul French for Ethical Corporation Magazine (September 2009):
  • Tyfield, D. (2009) 'The Atlas of Ideas: Towards Cosmopolitan Innovation' at the INNO-Views Policy Workshop on Emerging Economies (BRICs) and Innovation: Implications for Innovation Policies in Europe, Delegation to the EU of Baden-Wuerttemberg, Brussels, July 8th/9th 2009:; see also
  • Tyfield, D. (2009) 'Greening China's Cars: How can International Collaboration be Harnessed?' at the China Policy Institute Seminar Series, Nottingham University, 24th February 2009:
  • Urry, J. (2008) 'Innovation, Systems and Synchronisation', at the AIM Fellows Meeting, Imperial College, London, 6th November 2008.
  • Tyfield, D. (2008) 'Low Carbon China: the Role of International Collaboration' at the Inaugural Conference of the International Forum of Contemporary Chinese Studies, Post-Olympic China: Globalization and Sustainable Development after Three Decades of Reform, Nottingham University, 21st-23rd November 2008.
  • Urry. J. (2008) 'Sociology and Climate Change', Plenary Lecture at the Inaugural Conference of the International Sociological Association, Barcelona, Spain, 9th September 2008.
  • Tyfield, D. (2008) 'China-EU Networks of Low Carbon Innovation', presented at various universities around China, including Tsinghua University, Beijing; University of Science & Technology of China, Hefei; and Wuhan University of Technology, Wuhan:
  • Wilsdon, J. (2008) 'The New Geography of Science and Soft Power', Inaugural Pujiang Innovation Forum, Shanghai, China.
  • Tyfield, D. (2008) 'Low Carbon Innovation in China: Prospects, Politics & Partnerships', at the Demos workshop on New Perspectives on Chinese Innovation, NESTA, London, 21st February 2008.
  • Tyfield, D. and J. Wilsdon (2007) 'The Era of Zizhu Chuangxin? Contemporary Discourses in China and their Impact on National and International Innovation Policy', at the Lancaster Linguistics Workshop on New Discourses in Contemporary China, Lancaster University, 20th September 2007.
  • Wilsdon, J. (2007) 'Between Techno-Nationalism and Cosmopolitan Innovation: Ethics and Sustainability as Factors in China-UK Scientific Collaboration', at the Joint Conference of the OECD and Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) of China, Beijing, China, 27th August 2007.

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