A transition towards a progressively more sustainable future, with decreasing greenhouse gas emissions and the recovery of environmental degradation, requires a different economy, namely more environmentally friendly production, processes and technologies and a different concept of welfare, associated with new criteria through which firms can evaluate the added value they produce as a function of the whole wealth and not just the flow of revenues and the number of accumulated machines and infrastructures. The vector of this absolutely needed transformation is the low-carbon economy which, although declined according to different sectoral meanings and scaled to the levels of development of various nations and their vocations, gathers all the effort currently ongoing in the world towards sustainable development. Notwithstanding, the low-carbon economy involves a new vision of problems and dynamics of development, new cultures, different skills and training methods and that is what makes the transition very intricate. Indeed, this transition determines the formation of new sectors (low-carbon sectors), new types of job (green jobs) and new technologies (green technologies).
Accordingly, the technical and economic feasibility of this challenge will depend not only on the real conviction for the cause but also on the different development perspectives, public policies and risks that will take place on the road of change. This will require a structural transformation of society, a new consciousness, a revolutionary order.
Liberal and coordinated economies, as we know them from the theory, will not be able to move towards a low-carbon path if traditional industries do not reinvent themselves through new ways of organizing or through new forms of innovation that lead to products that are less energetic in their use; even if this innovation is triggered by considerations of cost or competitiveness rather than genuine environmental concerns. However, without environmental interests and without an adequate vision of their future, no one would be able to remain for long on a coherent transition path towards a different and sustainable type of economy. It is, indeed, in terms of long-term perspectives that the political-institutional context assumes an important function. Hence, a transition with deep meanings, which goes far beyond the narrow energy and economic boundaries, leads to ethical and social contexts.
Basically, the possible success in the long-term will require continuous innovation, new skills, different collaborations, investments with uncertain returns and a change in what are today’s market values.
In recent years, many have been the temporal hypotheses linked to scenarios of a transition of this magnitude. One of these is represented by the interesting study by Benjamin K. Sovacool (2016) entitled “How long will it take? Conceptualizing the temporal dynamics of energy transitions”, according to which the new energy and economic revolution can be completed within a fraction of the time that was necessary for previous revolutions. However, he asserts, in order to get there “it would take an interdisciplinary collaboration, a multi-scale effort”. He argues that the transition towards a low-carbon economy may be different than the past transitions given resource scarcity, the threat of climate change and the greatly improved technological knowledge and innovation which could greatly accelerate the global change for a cleaner economic future.
It is with these premises that innovation, financing and the political-institutional context. have been identified as main drivers of a low-carbon transition. In the next sections, they will be analyzed in relation to LMEs and CMEs settings, as defined by the literature, to examine whether there is a chance for the emergence of a low-carbon economy in these two models of capitalism.