The concept of leapfrogging was originally used in the context of economic growth theories and industrial-organization innovation studies with specific focus on competition among firms. It is based on Joseph Schumpeter's notion of ‘gales of creative destruction’. The hypothesis proposes that companies holding monopolies based on incumbent technologies have less incentive to innovate than potential rivals, and therefore they eventually lose their technological leadership role when new radical technological innovations are adopted by new firms which are ready to take the risks. When the radical innovations eventually become the new technological paradigm, the newcomer companies leapfrog ahead of former leading firms.
More recently the concept of leapfrogging is being used in the context of sustainable development for developing countries as a theory of development which may accelerate development by skipping inferior, less efficient, more expensive or more polluting technologies and industries and move directly to more advanced ones. It is proposed that through leapfrogging developing countries can avoid environmentally harmful stages of development and do not need to follow the polluting development trajectory of industrialized countries. The adoption of solar energy technologies in developing countries are examples of where countries do not repeat the mistakes of highly industrialized countries in creating an energy infrastructure based on fossil fuels, but "jump" directly into the Solar Age.
A closely related concept is that of ‘tunneling through’ the Environmental Kuznets Curve (EKC). The concept proposes that developing countries could learn from the experiences of industrialized nations, and restructure growth and development to address potentially irreversible environmental damages from an early stage and thereby ‘tunnel’ through any prospective EKC. Environmental quality thereby does not have to get worse before it gets better and crossing safe limits or environmental thresholds can be avoided. Although in principle the concepts of leapfrogging (focused on jumping technological generations) and tunnelling through (focused on pollution) are distinct, in practice they tend to be conflated.
Millennium Development Goals
The concept of environmental leapfrogging also includes a social dimension. The diffusion and application of environmental technologies would not only reduce environmental impacts, but can at the same time contribute to sustainable economic development and the realization of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by promoting greater access to resources and technologies to people who currently have no access. Regarding electricity currently nearly one third of the world population has no access to electricity and another third has only poor access. Reliance on traditional biomass fuels for cooking and heating can have a serious impact on health and the environment. There is not only a direct positive link between sustainable renewable energy technologies and climate change mitigation, but also between clean energy and issues of health, education and gender equity.
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The use of ethanol fuel in Brazil, where ethanol produced from sugarcane for transportation replaces gasoline, provides evidence that leapfrogging is a possible alternative to business-as-usual development.
The city of Rizhao in China is an example of energy leapfrogging on city level. As of 2007, 99 percent of households in the central districts use solar water heaters, and most of the lighting and traffic signals are powered with photovoltaic solar power.
While examples of technological and environmental leapfrogging exist, many attempts to leapfrog in developing countries to date have failed. Current efforts and methods are often too ambiguous, make simplistic assumptions about the technological possibilities and are characterized by incomplete understanding of the complex processes involved.
Leapfrogging can occur accidentally, when the only systems around for adoption are better than legacy systems elsewhere, or situationally, such as the adoption of decentralized communication for a sprawling, rural countryside. It may also be initiated intentionally, e.g. by policies promoting the installation of WiFi and free computers in poor urban areas.
The Reut Institute has carried out extensive research regarding the common denominators of all the different countries that have successfully 'leapt' in recent years. It concludes that to leapfrog a country needs to create a shared vision, leadership by a committed elite, 'Inclusive growth', relevant institutions, a labor market suited to cope with rapid growth and changes, growth diagnostics of the country's bottlenecks and focused reforms as well as local and regional development and national mobilization.
Promotion by international initiatives
- Developing country
- Developed country
- Renewable energy
- Sustainable development
- Technology transfer
- Legacy systems
- Digital divide
- Schumpeter, J. (1942). Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy. New York: Harper.
- Goldemberg, J. (1998). "Leapfrogging Energy Technologies". Energy Policy 2 (10): 729–741.
- http://www.wupperinst.org/globalisation/html/leap.html Wuppertal Institute on Leapfrogging
- Munasinghe, M. (1999). "Is environmental degradation an inevitable consequence of economic growth: tunneling through the environmental Kuznets curve". Ecological Economics 29 (1): 89–109. doi:10.1016/S0921-8009(98)00062-7.
- Vijay Modi, V., 2004. Energy services for the poor. Commissioned paper for the Millennium Project Task Force 1. December 14, 2004
- Look at the difference in ICT diffusion: India ICT Diffusion, History and Forecast compared with Belgium ICT Diffusion, History and Forecast from International Futures
- Rizhao: An extensive solar program in China
- Cascio, J. "Leapfrog 101" WorldChanging, December 15, 2004.
- Ministry of the Environment (Japan), 2007. 'Building a Low Carbon Society'
- ICTs and Leapfrogging Development
- Digital Divide - Leapfrogging
- Leapfrogging Technology
- Seeking Riches From the Poor