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The Muddle over Green Race

Studies N°01/2012. Iddri, 2012. 38 p.

Dans cet article, les auteurs décrivent dans un premier temps le contexte de compétition commerciale dans lequel s'inscrit aujourd'hui la « course verte » (green race) à l'innovation technologique, insistant notamment, au-delà des aspects technologiques, sur la concurrence salariale entre les pays. Puis ils montrent ce que l'Europe peut espérer gagner – valeur ajoutée et emplois – de sa position dominante actuelle dans le secteur de l'éolien et de ses parts de marché gagnées à travers le monde dans le secteur du photovoltaïque. Ils nuancent néanmoins ce constat en soulignant l'instabilité d'une situation mondialisée qui pourrait se transformer en « hyper compétition » (hypercompetition); et, dans cet équilibre mondial, faute d'un soutien affirmé des politiques publiques et d'accords commerciaux « durables », l'Europe pourrait être privée de certains marchés.

Points clés [en anglais] :

THE GREEN RACE, A RACE FOR JOBS
"Green race" in the media has been closely associated with the climate change agenda. However, economic underpinnings are not straightforward, as the scientific value of the very idea of a race, when applied to countries and not to firms, has been largely contested in the 1990’s. Yet the empirics have dramatically changed over the last decade, the scope of “tradable” activities opened to world competition enlarging. Consequently, the race for technology and for technology-induced productivity gains is now primarily a race for jobs – more specifically for nonroutine and non-tradable jobs.

THE EU LEADERSIP IN THE WIND AND PHOTOVOLTAIC SECTORS
Green technologies are expected to provide the EU with a means to make up for exhausted growth potential, while enabling the fast transition toward a low-carbon society. No breakthrough technologies are expected in the renewable energies (REN) sectors studied – namely wind and photovoltaic (PV) – in short term though. Labour and sectoral (value added) perspectives are much more certain and supportive of REN innovation and deployment. The majority of value added and jobs are located in the EU, with so far limited entry from foreign firms into significant segments of the chains. The EU has a clear leadership of the wind energy sector, and the majority of business opportunities created worldwide benefit EU PV firms.

HYPERCOMPETITION AS THE DOMINANT GLOBALISATION NARRATIVE?
Even though the current competition structure in wind and PV energy value chains is beneficial to EU firms, this situation might not be stable over time. Hypercompetition could become the dominant narrative in the wind value chain (offshore), and could turn out to be oligopolistic and conventional in the PV sector, to the detriment of EU firms prevented from accessing markets such as China. In both sectors, public policies are at stake: in the EU, through sustained incentives; and globally through the negotiation of “sustainable energy trade agreements”.