Throughout my academic and professional career, I have been motivated by what I believe to be the quintessential environmental challenge of our time, global climate change, and the need to transition to a low carbon economy. Since the majority of future fossil energy consumption and consequently carbon dioxide emissions will stem from the developing world, and foremost from China’s rapid industrialization, I have chosen to focus the majority of my research there. My focus on China stems not just from its role as the largest energy consumer and greenhouse gas emitter in the world, but from its importance in shaping future technology and policy decisions in the United States and globally. My research examines domestic and international factors that shape energy and climate policy in China, as well as China’s ability to leapfrog to more advanced energy technologies. Understanding how China can and will respond to these issues advances our understanding of the global energy system and how it will evolve under environmental constraints.

My central research approach is to view China not just as the source of energy demand or environmental problems, as it is so commonly portrayed, but rather as a source of change. I seek to understand how China’s rise is influencing its ability not only to respond to its environmental challenges, but its ability for technological innovation. My core research has examined the evolution of several specific clean energy technologies, tracing the models of international technology transfer through which they were acquired, and the domestic policy frameworks that facilitated their development. My next major research project will examine the conditions under which joint, cross-national research collaboration can succeed, drawing from a broad range of cases of Sino-U.S. collaboration in technology research and development (R&D) in the energy sector. I have also pursued research on the broader political and technical constraints on China’s energy sector, and how these factors influence domestic policy decisions in Beijing. Other research examines the climate-related impacts facing China, as well as the international positions China takes in the UN climate negotiations. My work has examined many of the above issues in the context of U.S.-China relations, with my research both informing and being informed by current policy discussions.

I have served as an international advisor to the Energy Foundation China Sustainable Energy Program in Beijing for over 10 years, working on renewable energy policy design and assessment in China. I am a Lead Author of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report, and am a National Committee on United States-China Relations Public Intellectuals Program Fellow. I was a member of the National Academies Committee on U.S.-China Cooperation on Electricity from Renewables and have consulted for many domestic and international organizations including UNIDO and USAID. I also serve on the Advisory Boards of the Asia Society's Center on U.S.-China Relations and the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE)’s U.S.-China Program.


B.A. Environmental Science and Policy, Duke University; M.A., Energy and Resources, University of California, Berkeley; Ph.D., Energy and Resources, University of California, Berkeley 

Project Summary

Cross-border collaboration on clean energy initiatives might speed the rate at which innovation occurs – a critical feature given the pressing need to curb global carbon emissions. Senior U.S. policy makers also clearly believe in the potential of such models of innovation: In 2009 and 2010, the Obama administration launched 7 major new initiatives in which the U.S. and China agreed to collaborate on a range of clean energy topics. However, these arrangements vary widely in scope, targeting different stages of the technology development process and encompassing different actors across the public and private sectors. What are the conditions under which such joint, cross-national collaboration can succeed?

This research probes this question by drawing from a broad range of cases of transnational collaboration in technology research and development (R&D) within the energy sector. I will examine both the structure of the collaborations and the nature of the innovations targeted in order to learn from cases that produced or failed to produce tangible results. My work will focus on collaborations with China, which has emerged as a key center of innovation in recent years. As the United States and China embark on a new era of clean energy collaboration, we are likely to see increasing calls for joint R&D, making these insights timely and important.

This project looks beyond technology collaborations between firms to focus on larger technology consortiums in which governments played a crucial role in their creation. Studies have argued that international, multi-stakeholder partnerships are not only important to solving global problems, but that they can also help overcome deficits in global governance regimes. The findings of this work will help to inform several of today’s core policy debates, namely the most efficient pathway towards low carbon technology development, the respective capabilities of developed and developing countries in innovation and manufacturing, and concerns about intellectual property rights and competition in a globalizing world.

Major Publications

  • Joanna I. Lewis, “Building a National Wind Turbine Industry: Experiences from China, India and South Korea,” International Journal of Technology and Globalisation 5, no. 3/4 (2011): 281-305.
  • Joanna I. Lewis, “The State of U.S.-China Relations on Climate Change: Examining the Bilateral and Multilateral Relationship,” China Environment Series, no. 11 (December 2010): 7-39.
  • Joanna I. Lewis, “Climate Change and Security: Examining China’s Challenges in a Warming World,” International Affairs 85, no. 6 (2009): 1195-1213.
  • Joanna I. Lewis, “The Evolving Role of Carbon Finance in Promoting Renewable Energy Development in China,” Energy Policy 38, no. 6 (June 2010): 2875-2886.