A short study on the pathways towards sustainable energy production and which economy will be leading. Based on the Varieties of Capitalism Theory.
The world is at a crossroads and our future does not seem bright at all. Each year the Earth Overshoot Day, which marks the day on which world consumption of resources exceeds the amount the Earth is able to regenerate within one year, occurs earlier and earlier (overshootday.org). In 1987, when it was measured for the first time, the Earth Overshoot Day was on December 19th, then on first of November in 2000 and in 2016 the 8th August marked the point after which humanity started to live on pump (foodprintnetwork.org). At the same time the proportion of greenhouse gases in our earth's atmosphere rises and rises and it reaches new record highs every year (Lüdemann 2014). As climate change progresses further, extreme natural events, like storms, heat waves and floods, are likely to occur more often and more extreme as before (Greenpeace). This development will lead to more natural and social disasters and consequently to an increasingly vulnerable society on earth.
In order to prevent serious impacts of climate change on our today's societies, change seems inevitable. There is hope on the horizon. On 4th of November 2016 the Paris Agreement, which was negotiated in late 2015, entered into force after at least 55 parties, accounting for around 55 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, “deposited their instruments of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession” (UNFCCC (1)).
Some of the Paris Agreements’ goals are the limitation of temperature rise no further than 1.5 degrees, the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, the promotion of climate resistance and the unification of climate related financial activities.
The energy sector is the crucial sector in order to reach these goals. As the global hunger for energy increases every year and energy production is already responsible for around 70 % of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, greening this sector is essential for the success of the Paris Agreement (Wilmroth 2015).
This essay intends to examine which country will take the leading role in the transformation of the energy system. Therefore the current energy systems of the USA, Germany and China will be considered in the first part. Then their ability to change towards a renewable energy supply will be assessed. The explanational approach will be the theory on Varieties of Capitalism (VOC) and it will be introduced briefly in the second part. After the introduction of the VOC, it will be set into context of the three examined states. Then the third part introduces the climate goals for each state, before the closing fourth part discusses, on basis of six criterias, which country will be leading the energy transition.
Current energy sectors
As mentioned before the first part deals with a brief historical development and the actual status quo in each state in order to provide an short overview over the starting points and the achievements already made concerning a transition towards a renewable energy system. Therefore the current energy sources of the USA, Germany and China will be presented briefly.
According to the Emissions Database for Global Atmospheric Research, the United States of America were responsible for 14.3 per cent of all carbon dioxide emissions worldwide in 2015 and were therefore the world's second largest carbon dioxide emitter behind China, which contributed 29,5 per cent of all emissions (EDGAR). The main energy sources for electricity production in the United States of America in 2016 are natural gas and coal, with a combined share of 64,0 per cent of the total energy production (see figure 1.1). The use of natural gas has increased within the last ten years due to the rising popularity of shale gas (U.S. Energy Information Administration,). The USA are now even becoming an exporteur country for natural gas and oil (ClDer emente 2017). Nuclear power plants have a relatively stable share of 19,6 per cent since the 1990s. The share of renewables has experienced a continuous growth since around 2005 and now reached about 8,4 per cent of the total market share. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), power production through hydroelectric energy experienced a steady decline from a 30,0 per cent share in the 1950s to 6,0 per cent in 2016.
Figure 1.1: Energy mix of the USA in 2016 (EIA, 2017)
Germany’s main sources for electricity production are brown coal and renewable energies. Both these energy sources experienced huge share gains: renewables started at 4,4 per cent in 1997 and reached 30,0 per cent in 2016; during the same period brown coal pushed its share from 10,9 per cent in 1997 to its current share of 24,9 per cent (Auer 2014). Nuclear power production still has a share of 14,8 per cent, but it will disappear as the german government has decided to shut down all power plants until 2022 (Bundesregierung).
In contrast to the U.S. the share of natural gas in Germany’s energy mix experienced a relatively stable development since 1997 (8,7 per cent) and now stands at 8,6 per cent (Auer 2014).
Figure 1.2: Energy mix of Germany in 2016 (Fraunhofer, 2017)
The picture is slightly different for China, where the main energy supplier in 2016 remains coal with a total share of 57,2 per cent, meaning it's more than doubling the share of the second largest supplier, which is hydroelectric energy.
So far nuclear only plays a minor role in China's energy mix, but it is expected to gain more proportion as many new reactors are either in their construction or planning phase (Ankenbrand 2016).
Since 2012, when renewable energies only made up up to 3 per cent of Chinas energy mix (Moe 2015, 73), renewables experienced a strong gain in shares and are now responsible for around 13,7 per cent of total energy supply.
Figure 1.3: Energy Mix of China in 2016 (Göss 2017).
2. Varieties of Capitalism
The Varieties of Capitalism (VOC) is a political economical theory which was mainly conceived by Peter A. Hall and David Soskice in order to explain differences between capitalist economies. One of the theories main questions is how economical actors deal with the daily problem of coordinating interactions with other actors, such as e.g. workers, institutions or other companies. According to Hall and Soskice (2001) each actor is a source of uncertainty which needs to be overcome. Resolving uncertainties is costly: in order to reach coordination, transaction costs must be paid. The higher uncertainties are, the higher the transaction costs. At this point embeddedness of actors attains importance: through mechanisms like for example routines, norms, rules, laws, organizations, parties, governments or unions. In other words hierarchies, markets and consensus are important social institutions to ensure a lowering of uncertainty and transaction costs and consequently allowing a higher level of coordination and embeddedness of economic activities (Hoffmann 2003, 124). Over time the interaction between economic actors (e.g. companies) establishes a set of complementary institutions (Hall and Soskice 2001, 17). Through this set of institutions a stable social framework emerges, constituting a specific type of market economy which is accompanied by a legal system that supports the institutions (Hall and Soskice, 9).
The consequences of the previously described developments are two different types of market economies, CME and LME. Germany, Austria and the Scandinavian countries are exemplary for CMEs. Whereas Anglo-Saxon states, like the US, United Kingdom or Ireland, are described as LME archetypals (Ćetković & Buzogány 2016).
Hall and Soskice (2001) distinguish LMEs, the free market economies, and CMEs by five ways companies are structured and interact with each other and other actors:
Type of financing
For CMEs the main type of financing relies on long-term bank loans and shareholders which also act as stakeholders (Hoffmann, 2003). Therefore financing relies on relationships, trust and insider knowledge. In LMEs financing rather short-term and it relies on the stock market. In this case financing relies on public knowledge.
Education and training
While CMEs provide a dual educational system which provides sector and business specific education, LMEs are characterized through vocational training that is provided by non-company institutions offering general education.
In CME management of firms is not independent. It is constrained and overwatched by supervisory boards, shareholders, banking houses, important customers and workers. In a liberal market economy decision making competency relies heavily on the management and is influenced by the shareholders interests.
Coordinated market economies tend to push inter-firm relationships through formal or informal institutions. Norms are set by consensus in unions and institutions. The same applies for inter-firm technology transfer: it is pushed institutionally and systemic.
In LMEs inter-firm relations rely on formal contracts. Norms and technology transfer are developed through inter-firm negotiations or developed through the market.
While in CMEs working conditions are negotiated by labour unions and set by collective agreements, in LMEs they are negotiated individually by every employee or at the firm-level. The labour market in CMEs is highly regulated and long term employment is common. LME labour markets are marked by short-term employment, weak labour unions and deregulation. Due to long-termism and short-termism systemic differences emerge: while CMEs tend to have high skilled cooperative employees, LMEs are characterized by a highly fluid labour market.
Another difference between LMEs and CMEs is how innovation takes place. Due to its highly fluid labour market, focus on fast profit and high tech industries, LMEs tend to provide more radical path breaking innovation. Innovation in CMEs is different. The workforce is more stable, vocational training is highly specified, investment is focused on long-termism, inter-firm relationships are strong and producing mainly medium-tech capital goods leads to more continuous incremental innovation (Hall and Soskice 2001, 39).
In LMEs “the problem of coordination between firms and between firms and their financiers, employees, suppliers, and customers is solved through market mechanisms.” (Oxford Index (1)). CMEs “rely on formal institutions to regulate the market and coordinate the interaction of firms and firm relations with suppliers, customers, employees, and financiers. CMEs tend to be characterized by relatively long-term relations between economic actors that are also relatively cooperative (...).” (Oxford Index (2))
In order to use the VOC framework as an explanatory theory towards the question who will lead the transformation of the energy sector, it is necessary to leave its exclusive focus on the firm level behind. Like Ćetković & Buzogány (2016) did in their article “Varieties of capitalism and clean energy transitions in the European Union: When renewable energy hits different economic logics” (2016), “an important role is also assigned to other actors: the state, science (academia and research) and civil society” (Ćetković & Buzogány 2016, 5).
This means that the development towards a sustainable energy system the US, Germany and China will be examined under consideration of a complex composition of actors (e.g. companies, state, science, unions and organizations) and interests (e.g. vested interests), which varies in each country and therefore either benefits a change or prevents it.
As mentioned before the US and Germany are representatives for the two different types of market economies. China does not fit into these categories and a description as “Authoritarian Capitalism” (Witt and Redding, 2014) suits it better than CME or LME.
Unlike the US and Germany the political system in China is dominated by a single party, the Communist Party of China (CPC), which holds total political power. The CPC acts “highly interventionist” (Witt and Redding, 2014), and Chinese markets are heavily regulated. Nevertheless law compliance is weak and corruption and personal enrichment are common.
The banking system relies on state-owned banks and more than 80 per cent of corporate fundings are originating from banks (Witt and Redding, 2014).
Corporate governance and ownership are also quite different, compared to the US and Germany. According dot Redding and Witt (2007), Chinese firms can be characterized by three types of ownership (Witt and Redding, 2014) :
Usually owned by families or partnerships, private companies are responsible for about 50 per cent (2007) of total employment. In 2007, 75 per cent of all firms were owned privately.
State owned enterprises (SOE)
SOEs are fully state owned and they mainly occur in industries that are strategic for China's development and security. SOEs accounted for 6 per cent of all firms and 22 per cent of total employment in 2007. Due to its ownership SOEs remain under direct state control.
Hybrid firms are in between private and state owned enterprises. On the outside hybrid firms look and behave like private ones, through ownership structure they are dependent of the state, as CPC bodies and government members of any stage could be stakeholders.
Furthermore foreign firms are of importance in China’s economy, as they contribute a significant economical impact. They also act as a source of social and technological innovation (Witt and Redding, 2014).
When it comes to corporate governance Chinese firms are heavily dependent on their owner, or representatives of the government. Because there is a huge mistrust in in professional managers running business, many owners tend to remain in control of their company. This leads to a top-down structure of corporate governance.
Education and training in China is is more general than vocational. Because cooperation between actors of the education system and companies is weak, education is often leading into the wrong direction. Firms could fix the failures in education through in-house training, but because poaching of workers is common, firms do not see a reason for increasing their efforts of vocational training (Witt and Redding, 2014).
Inter-firm relationships are of different guises. On the one hand there are a number of joint ventures (JV) between Chinese and foreign firms. Most of the times these JVs are the result of a legislative negotiation: the Chinese government provides foreign firms access to the market in exchange for their technology (Witt and Redding, 2014). Since 2001, when China joined the World Trade Organization, these practices are declining. On the other hand inter-firm relationships between domestic firms are very limited due to the weakness of the chinese intellectual property protection system. Due to this weakness firms “are free to copy what they need.” (Witt and Redding, 2014). As mentioned before poaching is common and skilled workers are just hired at a higher salary, which makes alliancing obsolete.
Of course companies are working together to some extend, but cooperation does not deepen. SOEs are often tied together in business groups. These kinds of cooperation are rather hierachical conglomerats, than equal business networks.
In summary these factors define China and its specific set of institutions and actors as “Authoritarian Capitalism”, rather than LME or CME.
3. Desired state
How serious are the USA, Germany and China about turning their energy systems towards renewables and sustainability? All three nations signed and ratified the Paris Agreement. all three nations experienced a rise of renewables in their energy mixes (see 1.1 to 1.3.). Finally all three nations have set their own resolutions on greening their economies.
These resolutions were introduced before the Paris Agreement was made, but they still remain significant for representing a country's intention to change. Therefore they will be presented in the following part.
In 2013 the Obama administration introduced the Climate Action Plan (CAP). It contains three pillars which are as follows (EESI):
Reduction of climate gas emissions
The first pillar targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 28 percent compared to 2005 until 2030. Therefore emissions, originating in power production, shall be cut and increase of overall energy efficiency and a further increase of renawable energies shall be promoted.
Increase preparation of the US for climate change impacts
Provision of resources (e.g. financial and knowledge) towards federal and communal actors to enhance the societal resilience against the consequences of climate change.
Take the leadership in international efforts
The USA intend to take the lead in promoting international agreements and climate negotiations. Furthermore they aim to increase worldwide spending for clean energy technologies.
The new Trump administration already announced to abolish the CAP and to introduce their own action plan on climate change and energy supply issues. Which impact this development has on the US’s climate goals and actions, will be considered later on.
The German government intends to decrease greenhouse gas emissions by 40 per cent (compared to 1990) until 2020. On the long run emissions shall be reduced up to 90 per cent.
Therefore several plans have been introduced. The most recent is the “Klimaschutzplan 2050”, which was anounced in 2016. The plan is based on the targets of the Paris Agreement and the Intended Nationally Determined Contribution of the EU and its Member States. It does not provide any precise goals. It rather consists of five strategic elements (BMUB):
In the long-term Germany shall be based mostly on renewable energies by the middle of the century.
Orientation along guiding principles and pathways as basis approaches.
Milestones shall work as a framework for all sectors.
Development of strategic measures in all concerned areas of action
Implementation of a learning process in accordance with the Paris Agreement.
China announces its goals in its development towards a sustainable use of ressources through its “Intended Nationally Determined Contribution”-Paper. China intends to progress its already taken path further and to achieve four main goals by 2030 (UNFCCC (2)):
The peak emissions of carbon dioxide shall be reached around 2030. If possible this peak shall be reached earlier.
Lowering carbon dioxide emissions per unit of gross domestic product by up to 65 per cent in comparison to 2005.
The share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption shall be raised to around 20 per cent.
Adding around 4.5 billion cubic meters of forest stock volume compared to 2005.
Furthermore the paper communicates that China has chosen a “green, low-carbon and recycled development path as its policy orientation” (UNFCCC (2)). In order to reach these goals the paper states that “enhanced policies and measures in areas such as regime building, production mode and consumption pattern, economic policy, science and technology innovation and
international cooperation” (UNFCCC (2)) shall be implemented.
4. Leading the transition
On basis of the preceding course of this essay, this fourth and closing part tries to examine which country will take the leading role in the development towards a sustainable future.
In order to achieve this goal, six criterias have been set which shall serve as evaluation criterias:
Role of the state
Cooperation between multiple actors
Embeddedness (of transition progress in society)
Each state will be analyzed with regard towards the mentioned criterias and their positive or negative influences on the transition towards renewable energies.
4.1.1. Role of the state
The US has energy politics high on its political agenda (Moe 2015, 103) and renewable energies are seen as important tool to reduce energy dependence on imports.
What tends to be negative for the development of a stable renewable energy sector is the instability of US policies. Over time “there have been booms, busts, and protracted periods of unpredictability” (Moe 2015, 102). Therefore Government policies ranged from adequate to hostile (Moe 2015, 104) and were highly inconstant. Additionally there is no coordinated federal policy, but rather there exist many different approaches within the different states and there are no coordinated tools like a feed-in law, a Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) or federal carbon dioxide cut targets (Moe 2015, 105). This leads to and also is the result of a lack of institutionalization. Furthermore the system of checks and balances makes it very difficult to implement major changes (Moe 2015, 118). The main negative impact on energy transition is that “the US (...) suffered from minimalist and uncoordinated policies (...) and inconsistent government policy.” (Moe 2015, 102). With the new Trump administration in charge, this negative influences are unlikely to change as the President already has taken action in order to dismantle Obama’s Climate Action Plan (Park 2017).
The US scores in financial support of research and development (R&D). According to Moe (2015), the government provided almost $400 million for the creation of new “Energy Frontier Research Centers (EFRCs) at universities, national laboratories, non-profit organizations, and private companies.” (Moe 2015, 126). Additionaly $150 million were spent to establish ARPA-E, a research center for highly radical innovations that are too risky for private actors.
As already mentioned there is no stable climate policy in the US and therefore governmental financing is also very unstable. Additionally state funding ends after the phase development: “from then on, market forces and the strength of venture capital would take care of the problem” (Moe 2015, 104).
The mentioned participation of venture capital (VC) in the funding process is not a reliable source: VC is characterized by short-term investments and at the first signs of trouble it is likely to pull out its efforts and therefore it’s “no good vehicle for energy transformation” (Moe 2015, 128).
Venture capital has the ability to provide capital but without state led “programs of deployment” (Moe 2015, 128) it lacks its driving forces.
According to Moe (2015) the United States of America have “the most sophisticated and innovative science and innovation clusters” (Moe 2015, 104) in the world and it is well connected between researchers and industries and entrepreneurs (Moe 2015, 125).
As already mentioned research and development are heavily state funded and several research facilities provide the necessary innovative power and disruptive innovations are very likely. The US is the world’s leader in clean energy patents.
Cooperation between R&D and market actors works very well in some cases and technology diffusion and commercialization are often successful.
5.1.5. Vested interests
Some US states have a very influential coal and petroleum industry, therefore they have vested interests in remaining the status quo. Because of the federal structure of the US, “Senators and Congressmen representing these states often serve more as spokesman for their own states as elected representatives for the nation as a whole” (Moe 2015, 111).
The system is highly vulnerable for vested interests and it rather favours established industries rather than newcomers like renewable energy producers.
Another point, which shows the highly influential forces of vested interests, are the subsidies which are paid: In 2006 around 66 per cent of all energy subsidies went to fossil fuels, whereas renewables only received 8 per cent (Moe 2015, 122).
There does not seem to be a common sense in the US’ society for greening the economy and energy sectors. On the contrary: there are many republicans denying the existence of global warming and climate change, one of these is the new President Donald J. Trump (Spiegel, http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/donald-trump-glaubt-doch-an-den-klimawandel-auf-seinem-golfplatz-a-1093780.html , accessed 15.05.2017).
In summary the US suffers from many negative influences like the lack of institutionalization of renewable energy policy, lack of predictability and vested interests of established energy suppliers blocking renewable policies. Positive influences are the highly innovative R&D efforts as well as a strong economy which is constantly searching for new markets. But due to the negative influences potential growth rates in this sector remain “to a large extent still very much untapped.” (Moe 2015, 136).
4.2.1. Role of the state
The German government was able to provide stable support for the changing of the energy system over a long period of time (Ćetković & Buzogány 2016, 646). Support schemes, like the Feed-in law that guaranteed a fixed above marked price for renewables, support of R&D and state funded pilot projects, at federal and municipal levels led to the establishing of a stable policy framework. This stable framework “played an essential role in maintaining the momentum of renewable energy sector development during the formative phase” (Ćetković & Buzogány 2016, 646).
Recent policy developments indicate that there is a shift concerning participatory efforts of the government (Ćetković & Buzogány 2016, 647). The stable feed-in-tariff support scheme, that helped to develop renewables further than being a nice technology, will be altered towards a more marked based system in order to lower costs (Ćetković & Buzogány 2016, 648).
One of the key players benefiting the “Energiewende” is the government-owned development bank (Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau (KfW)), which provide “easy access to loans and credits for renewable energy investors” (Ćetković & Buzogány 2016, 646).
Another positive factor is a wide network of small and medium sized locally-embedded banks, which provided huge amounts of capital to private actors. A close cooperation between banks, medium sized firms and the local governments is utilized for financing the renewable energy sector (Ćetković & Buzogány 2016, 647).
Given the peculiarities of a CME, Germany’s way of innovation is rather incremental. The main advantage for the new renewable energy sectors has been a strong tradition in mechanical and electronical engineering (Ćetković & Buzogány 2016, 647).
The existent of a stable framework of regulations, the close cooperation between governments, banks, citizens, companies, R&D institutions and a common sense for climate issues led to a huge degree of cooperation between the different actors.
4.2.5. Vested interests
Germany has an oligopoly energy marked, which is dominated by the “big four” (RWE, E.ON, Vattenfall and EnBW) (Moe 2015, 149). These are the main representatives for vested interests of the coal and nuclear sector. And their attitude towards renewable energies remained hostile for a long period of time because they had an interest in keeping their market shares. However despite the strong coalition of the “big four” certain policies were introduced and nowadays the renewable energy sector has become strong enough to be considered as its own vested interest (Moe 2015, 164).
German renewable energy policies are highly embedded into the society through a popular and political consensus as well as strong industrial and institutional support (Moe 2015, 156). The applied policies and strategies led to coordinated and embedded government - industry - finance - science - society interactions, which promoted the rise of renewable energies (Ćetković & Buzogány 2016, 652).
In summary the mentioned aspects made Germany the leading force in the transition towards sustainability. It was capable of pushing EU policies further. But recently applied changes towards approved mechanisms, like the feed-in law, dismantled Germany’s advanced position to a certain extend and made the further development more complicated.
4.3.1 Role of the state
So far the Chinese government showed a lot of eagerness pursuing their goal of establishing sustainable energy. In the 12th five year plan wind and solar are amongst the “new strategic and emerging industries” (Moe 2015, 73). Furthermore the government intends to reach a high degree of structural change, because these strategic industries are chosen to replace the old pillars of coal and oil as main contributors in the Chinese energy mix. Therefore a reshaping process of the regulatory framework has been started (Moe 2015, 73). But so far there are no signs for a structural change, which is due to a lack of coordination between different levels of government hierarchy and the general weakness of the force of law and lack in institutionalized trust (Moe 2015, 75.)
As the Chinese banking system is highly state dependent funds are raised amongst these banks in accordance to the political will of the central government. SOEs are easily provided with long-term funding.
The Chinese education system is weakly developed and it does not yet compete with education levels of advanced industrialized nations. Therefore innovation takes place through foreign companies entering into the Chinese market.
4.3.5. Vested interests
So far the role of vested interests in China's development towards the transformation to renewable energies is not to be estimated. Because the Chinese market grows further and further there is advantage for everyone in it. As soon as growth comes to an end, which will happen in the foreseeable future, vested interests will occur as a problem: the already established actors of the former pillar energy suppliers (coal and gas) will try to secure their status quo and thus vested interest conflicts will emerge (Moe 2015, 75.).
In summary the Chinese government's shows a huge commitment towards changing the energy system, but due to a lack of coordination and lack of structural change the durability of the progress made remains to be seen.
As shown through the previous examinations, each of the three states has its own advantages in regards of being the leading country in the transition of the energy sector towards renewable energies. While the USA have the most ambitious and progressive innovation and research facilities, Germany has the strongest and most coordinated institutional framework and the implementation process is highly embedded into many spheres of society and economy. China’s government shows the highest commitment towards changing the energy system. But also every country has its disadvantages and structural problems that might influence the transition in a negative way. The US shows a highly unstable political commitment towards renewables over time. Under the Trump administration it is very unlikely that the USA will deepen their efforts. Germany tends to cut its spendings for its “Energiewende” and major support mechanisms, like the feed-in-tariff, are fading out or are already dismantled. Also it experiences the rise of old vested interests and coal remains a main source of energy. China suffers from a weakening of economic growth, which will make vested interests, that are now hidden, obvious. Under certain circumstances this will slow down or stop China’s further progress in transitioning its energy system.
Due to these findings it is not easy to suggest who will be leading in the future. But it is not important who takes the lead. What really matters is that the awareness of necessity is present in each of these states and all other states on the planet. As today's world is highly interconnected and the impacts of climate change won’t be regionally limited, international treaties, like the Paris Agreement, are of huge importance towards the transition of the energy systems toward renewables and a sustainable future.
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