Alliance Manchester Business School - AMBS
Article By
Frank Geels

Frank Geels

Eddie Davies Professor of Sustainability Transitions

Reasons to be Cheerful

Responses to climate change are gaining real traction, says Frank Geels.

Although global carbon emissions continue to rise, there are hopeful developments across the world right now.

For instance, according to a recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we have seen decreasing emissions in at least 18 countries for the past 10 years.

As we enter a new era where low-carbon transitions are accelerating, businesses are also beginning to confront the huge challenges posed by climate change. In fact, we are in the midst of a global innovation race amid increasing pressure on organisations to do something. At the same time there is rising demand from policymakers for answers too.

Positive trends are also visible in terms of global investment in the energy transition. For instance, according to BloombergNEF, last year saw a huge increase in investment to almost £1.8 trillion with a rapid increase in the renewables and electric vehicle sector. China is dominating current investment, outspending the rest of the world, while it also dominates manufacturing in most low-carbon technologies too.

System transitions

Climate change will not be addressed by a single silver bullet and can only be tackled through system transition. But there is not just one transition but six main pathways for net zero energy transitions.

First, there is a need to decarbonise the electricity system (solar, wind, biomass, nuclear), and here rapid progress is being made as costs reduce. Second, we need to see the electrification of systems in heating, mobility, heavy industry and green hydrogen.

In this context rapid progress is being made with EVs, less so in areas such as heat pumps. Third, we need to see energy efficiency improvement, and here really good progress is being made with appliances and lighting.

In terms of the other three transitions progress is however slower. For instance, in the area of alternative fuels for aviation, shipping and heavy industry there is slow but growing interest. The same is true for the deployment of Carbon Capture Storage (CCS) for heavy industry.

Climate change will not be addressed by a single silver bullet.

Behaviour change

However perhaps the most disappointing progress is with the sixth transition - us - and how we change our behaviour.

Part of this poor progress with behaviour change is undoubtedly down to the catalogue of disturbances we have seen in recent years from the Covid-19 pandemic through to the gas and energy crisis of 2022/23, high inflation, and the cost of living crisis.

In fact it is now on the societal side where you see most pushback against green technologies for reasons of affordability. To improve societal acceptance, governments will have to consider providing more subsidies to lower income households.

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Big government

Indeed, a very noticeable trend is that big government intervention is back after several decades of neo-liberalism and 'small state' ideology. Whether it’s the response we saw from governments to the pandemic, or how they dealt with high gas prices, or how they are responding to increased security concerns today, we see the return of the state.

At the same time, states are waking up to the fact that China dominates low-carbon manufacturing in most technology areas, while it is also leading in the deployment of electric vehicles and renewable energy. This realisation led the US to introduce the Inflation Reduction Act and Europe to introduce the Net Zero Industry Act.

These support packages further accelerate low-carbon transitions because the amount of money involved is transformative, especially in the US. Businesses which used to be reluctant to address climate change mitigation, now also want to be on the front foot. Organisations want to move on and reduce risk.


On a personal level there is growing interest among policymakers and businesses in my Multi-Level Perspective (MLP) model, which conceptualises transition dynamics using insights from evolutionary economics.

I also recently gave a talk for Hitachi which was making an educational video with the University of Tokyo on how the world is transgressing planetary boundaries and how sustainability transitions can offer a solution strategy.

Indeed, it's extremely rewarding that major global companies are appreciating my work and helping to disseminate it.

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