Purpose – This paper seeks to explore arguments for the importance of disruptive innovation to China's low-carbon transition, while such innovation is generally overlooked and/or belittled.
Design/methodology/approach – The paper builds on the multi-level perspective (MLP) of systems transitions being developed by interdisciplinary scholars regarding low-carbon innovation to explore the multiple opportunities regarding disruptive innovation in the case of China.
Findings – This exploration details that at the levels of business strategy, national economic development and governance of a transition to ecological sustainability, there is a strong prima facie case that disruptive innovation offers singular opportunities in China regarding low-carbon innovation, while a focus on hi-tech innovation alone is unlikely to effect the radical systems transition needed.
Practical implications – Acknowledging and incorporating such opportunities is thus to be encouraged, both in China and elsewhere, including in the formulation of low-carbon innovation policy. A concerted research programme for ongoing and iterative “second-order” learning about concrete examples of disruptive low-carbon innovation is advocated.
Social implications – The increased opportunities for dispersed social involvement in a low-carbon transition through disruptive innovation are discussed.
Originality/value – The paper offers a novel synthesis of diverse literatures to advocate a significantly different approach to low-carbon innovation than is evidenced in current policy and policy discourse.