American Sociological Association

The Paradoxical Relationship between Renewable Energy and Economic Growth: A Cross-National Panel Study, 1990-2013

This cross-national study employs a time-series cross-sectional Prais-Winsten regression model with panel-corrected standard errors to examine the relationship between renewable energy consumption and economic growth, and its impact on total carbon dioxide emissions and carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP. Findings indicate that renewable energy consumption has its largest negative effect on total carbon emissions and carbon emissions per unit of GDP in low-income countries. Contrary to conventional wisdom, renewable energy has little influence on total carbon dioxide emissions or carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP at high levels of GDP per capita. The findings of this study indicate the presence of a “renewable energy paradox,” where economic growth becomes increasingly coupled with carbon emissions at high levels of renewable energy, and the negative effect of economic growth on carbon emissions per unit of GDP lessens as renewable energy increases. These findings suggest that public policy should be directed at deploying renewable energy in developing countries, while focusing on non-or-de-growth strategies accompanied with renewable energy in developed nations.


Ryan P Thombs





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