Energy is needed for economic growth, and access to cheap, reliable energy is an essential development objective. Historically most incremental energy demand has been met through fossil fuels; however, in future that energy will have to be low carbon and ultimately zero-carbon. Decarbonization can and needs to happen at varying speeds in all countries, depending on national circumstances. This article reviews the implications of a transition to low-carbon energy on economic growth and development in current low-income countries. It sets out empirical findings about trajectories for energy intensity and emissions intensity of economic growth; explores pathways to accelerate decarbonization; reviews the theoretical and empirical literature on economic costs and co-benefits of energy decarbonization; and assesses analytical approaches. It discusses the opportunities that might arise in terms of a cleaner, more dynamic and more sustainable growth model, and the options for developing countries to implement a less-carbon intensive model of economic development. WIREs Clim Change 2018, 9:e495. doi: 10.1002/wcc.495. This article is categorized under: Climate Economics > Economics and Climate Change Climate and Development > Decoupling Emissions from Development.