in: WIREs Climate Change, published online 01.10.2020
The transition to a low-carbon economy will entail a large-scale structural change. Some industries will have to expand their relative economic weight, while other industries, especially those directly linked to fossil fuel production and consumption, will have to decline. Such a systemic shift may have major repercussions on the stability of financial systems, via abrupt asset revaluations, defaults on debt, and the creation of bubbles in rising industries. Studies on previous industrial transitions have shed light on the financial transition risks originating from rapidly rising “sunrise” industries. In contrast, a similar conceptual understanding of risks from declining “sunset” industries is currently lacking. We substantiate this claim with a critical review of the conceptual and historical literature, which also shows that most literature either examines structural change in the real economy, or risks to financial stability but rarely both together. We contribute to filling this research gap by developing a consistent theoretical framework of the drivers, transmission channels, and impacts of the phase-out of carbon-intensive industries on the financial system and on the feedback from the financial system into the rest of the economy. We also review the state of play of policy aiming to protect the financial system from transition risks and spell out research implications.