Sources of growth and the role of policy: evidence from economic history

Topic lead: Roger Fouquet

This research topic draws lessons from economic history, particularly the history of energy system transitions, for the transition to green growth.


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This research topic helps to establish the pre-conditions necessary for a new Industrial Revolution, triggered by climate change and other environmental policies.

The project will comprise both a broad assessment of the historical evidence and one or more case studies of aspects of past energy system transitions.

The two initial projects are:

  • Historical evidence to inform the transition to a low-carbon economy: designed as an over-arching project to provide an intellectual framework for the more detailed work on the others. The proposal is first to review briefly governments’ roles in promoting economic growth in the past, and then consider government attempts to address coordination and collective action problems, and market failures. Finally, it will seek to offer insights from past experiences about how governments can promote growth through a low-carbon transition.
  • Ensuring energy service access to the poor in the 19th and early 20th centuries: a key problem in present-day developing economies is providing universal access to energy services to poorer members of society. In the 19th and 20th centuries, as new energy sources and technologies were introduced (such as gas and electricity, as well as railways), large shares of the population were left on the margins of these revolutions for decades. This lack of access has not been properly understood. These experiences are likely to be of great relevance to present-day developing countries, with large shares of the population at the margins of the energy service revolutions.