China's Climate Change Policy: Domestic and International Developments*

By Heggelund, Gørild | Asian Perspective, April 1, 2007 | Go to article overview

China's Climate Change Policy: Domestic and International Developments*


Heggelund, Gørild, Asian Perspective


This article demonstrates that prospects for emission reduction are not realistic under the current policy environment, and China is unlikely to take on commitments in the near future. The major determinants of and actors involved in China's climate change policy are discussed, relating these to China's stance in global climate change negotiations. Energy is seen as the key to economic development and is one of the main causes for China's unwillingness to take on emission reduction commitments. Vulnerability to climate change is an emerging issue in China, and could contribute to elevating the climate change issue on China's domestic agenda in the future. Global climate change is still seen as a remote matter by the country's policy makers, and remains a foreign-policy issue. International pressure has not been able to change Beijing's stance of no commitments, although China is now an active participant in the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), which has become a way to apply an international mechanism on domestic problems and one of the channels that China itself prefers to use in its climate-change efforts.

Key words: China, environmental protection-East Asia, sustainable development

Introduction

China is a key country in the international climate regime for two reasons. First, it is important in the global climate-change game due to its status as the world's second largest emitter of greenhouse gases after the United States. China's emissions are increasing steadily. Second, its status and influence in the G-77 of Third World states give it prominence in climate negotiations. As the world's largest developing country with an influential voice in the United Nations, China is set to play an important role in leading the developing world in the future climate regime.

How then will China contribute to efforts to reduce global emissions? When will it take on emission reduction commitments under the Kyoto Protocol? In recent years, some optimism has been detected as China has engaged in dialogue in the negotiations. 1 Beijing's stance has, however, not changed: It still holds that the developed countries must take the main responsibility for past greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, I argue in this article that China is unlikely to take on commitments in the near future. I will demonstrate that prospects for emission reduction are not realistic under the current policy environment for several reasons. Moreover, the article discusses whether China is likely to leave the Kyoto Protocol altogether and pursue other alternative channels to reduce its emissions.2

I begin by analyzing the reasons why China continues to resist mandatory reductions-i.e., the major determinants for China's climate change policy-relating these to the country's stance in the global climate change negotiations. The article discusses the main actors involved in and responsible for China's climate change policy, and how their dominance influences China's climate change policy. China's climate policy is determined by both domestic and international considerations. Key domestic interests in this regard are economic development, energy issues, and perceived vulnerability. Understanding the domestic factors of China's climate policy has the potential to enhance and lead to more productive negotiations. China's stance in international negotiations is also influenced by foreign policy, where major issues are sovereignty, equity, and international image. The country's international standing and its wish to be seen as a respected member of the international community are important factors. These international and domestic issues will be discussed in the sections below.

We will see how developments relate to both domestic and international climate policy by examining China's involvement in the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). China is expected to become a major recipient of CDM investments. Due to the country's coal-based energy, there is great potential for projects in energy efficiency, energy conservation, fuel switching, and renewable energy. …

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