UNU-MERIT’s Research Theme 4. Sustainable Development, Innovation and Societal Transitions

Research in this area is concerned with sustainability aspects of long-term developments at various levels of aggregation. It ranges from the diffusion of particular environmentally friendly technologies at the micro level, to structural changes at the macro level. The overarching research theme is the feasibility of a move towards a more sustainable future, as well as the creation of societal support for making such moves. ‘Inertia’ of various kinds can obstruct such transitions, and therefore they form an important research topic. This includes widely varying factors such as habits and locked-in behavioural patterns by consumers and firms, high and fixed costs associated with technological infrastructures (e.g., in energy-supply systems), and the impact of time delays (e.g., in global warming).

The UNU-MERIT research tradition follows two separate but related lines of inquiry. One is a combination of qualitative and quantitative research for studying the transition process and the way in which it can be managed by policymakers. This often focuses on technological innovation, both in terms of the generation of innovation, and in terms of adaptation and adoption of innovations. Escaping from technological and societal lock-in is an important topic in this line of research. The second research line is concerned with the construction of economic models of the transition process. The incentive structure for R&D and investment, and capital-embodiment of technological change is an important part of these models, which often make use of optimal control techniques.

Also visit the group’s UNU-MERIT Profile:  Research Theme 4. Sustainable Development, Innovation and Societal Transitions