PROGRESS IN GEOGRAPHY ›› 2021, Vol. 40 ›› Issue (3): 498-510.doi: 10.18306/dlkxjz.2021.03.013

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Geography of sustainability transitions: A sympathetic critique and research agenda

YU Zhen1(), GONG Huiwen2,*(), HU Xiaohui3   

  1. 1. School of Public Policy & Management, Tsinghua University, Beijing 100084, China
    2. Eawag-Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology, Zurich 8600, Switzerland
    3. Jiangsu Center for Collaborative Innovation in Geographical Information Resource Development and Application, School of Geography, Nanjing Normal University, Nanjing 210023, China
  • Received:2020-05-16 Revised:2020-08-12 Online:2021-03-28 Published:2021-05-28
  • Contact: GONG Huiwen;
  • Supported by:
    China Postdoctoral Science Foundation Grant(2019M650758);Fund from Key Laboratory of Regional Sustainable Development Modeling, Chinese Academy of Sciences(KF2020-18);Fund from Center for Urban Development and Land Policy, Peking University-Lincoln Institute(FS03-20201101-HXH)


Sustainability transitions focus on the fundamental transformation of the existing socio-technical system towards a more sustainable mode of production and consumption. Emerged in Europe two decades ago, this new research field has already exerted impacts on the green transition policy practices of many countries and regions. In recent years, transition studies have increasingly taken geography into account, resulting in a new paradigm of geography of sustainability transitions. This emerging paradigm focuses on the role of spatial embeddedness and multi-scalar interactions in explaining where transitions take place. This article provides a critical overview of the development in the geography of sustainability transitions research, and suggests five promising avenues for future transition research in the Chinese context: 1) to develop concepts and theorize from the Chinese context; 2) to link sustainability transitions with latecomer regions' industry catch-up; 3) to compare the sustainability transitions in cities with different leading industries; 4) to pay more attention to the role of local agency through the lens of multi-scalar interactions; and 5) to explore the impact of digitalization and artificial intelligence on sustainability transitions.

Key words: sustainability transitions, green innovation, economic geography, spatial embeddedness, multi-scalar interactions