The Changing Role of the State in Innovation

Speaker: Prof Mark Harvey # Director, Centre for Research in Economic Sociology and Innovation (CRESI), University of Essex

22nd Nov 2010

15:30 - 17:05

Seminar room 1.06, Old Surgeons' Hall, HSY


Faced with major challenges of global climate change, declining fossil fuel reserves, and competition between alternative uses of land, the transition to renewable transport fuels has been marked by new modes of political economic governance and the strategic direction of innovation. Climate change mitigation, the reduction of dependency on fossil carbon, and enhancement of energy security are inextricably connected. In this paper, we compare the different trajectories to the development and uptake of biofuels in Europe, Brazil and the USA. In terms of the timing, direction, and development of biofuels for road transport, the early lead taken by Brazil in sugarcane based ethanol and flex-fuel cars, the USA drive to corn-to-ethanol, and the European domination of biodiesel from rapeseed, manifest significant contrasts at many levels. Adopting a neo-Polanyian ‘instituted economic process’ approach we argue that the contrasting trajectories exemplify the different modes of politically instituting economies of transport energy. We analyse the contrasting weight and impact of different drivers in each case (climate change mitigation, energy security, rural economy development, and market opportunity) in the context of diverse initial conditions and resource endowments. Setting the analysis in the context of the historical role of the state in innovation, we argue that unprecedented circumstances today are inducing the emergence of a new role for the state in the strategic direction of research. As a consequence, the main issue is one of political, rather than market, failure in addressing the challenges of climate change and ‘peak oil’.

The research is based on an extensive primary research programme of in-depth interviews with strategic players in each of the geographic regions, qualitative institutional analysis, a scenario workshop, and secondary data analysis.