Academic journal article Texas International Law Journal

Green from Above: Climate Change, New Developmental Strategy, and Regulatory Choice in China

Academic journal article Texas International Law Journal

Green from Above: Climate Change, New Developmental Strategy, and Regulatory Choice in China

Article excerpt


In 1992, China joined 154 other countries at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro by signing the primary international agreement on climate change, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).1 About six years later, in May 1998, China signed the Kyoto Protocol to the UNFCCC.2 At the time, China was a moderate emitter of carbon dioxide (CO2), the main greenhouse gas covered by the Kyoto Protocol.3

The Kyoto Protocol to the UNFCCC was ratified by China in August 20024 and entered into force on February 16, 2005.5 The United States has ratified the UNFCCC6 but not the Kyoto Protocol. China's twenty years of market reform resulted in an impressive decline in carbon intensity, which is measured by CO2 emissions per dollar of gross domestic product (GDP) created.7 As its rapid industrialization unfolds, China is emerging as a major contributor to global warming.8 The International Energy Agency has noted that primary energy demand between 2000 and 2005 grew by 55 percent while GDP increased by 57 percent.'' This increase in energy demand was driven by "surging electricity demand (met largely by increased coal use) and by the manufacture of metals, building materials and chemicals for infrastructure, consumer goods and export markets."1" As a consequence, emission of CO2 grew on average by 10.6 percent between 2000 and 2005, which was three times the 3.2 percent growth rate of the 1990s." A June 2008 report by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency suggests that China overtook the United States as the highest emitter of CO2 in 2006.'2 For many environmentalists in the United States and Europe, a major problem with the Kyoto Protocol was that neither the United States nor China was subject to the CO2 cap that it set for developed countries.13

Since taking office in 2009, the new Obama administration has changed the dynamics on climate change both in the United States and in the international arena. Shortly after his inauguration, President Obama instructed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to reconsider California's request for a waiver of Clean Air Act preemption so that the state could enact air pollution standards for motor vehicles that were stricter than the national standards.14 The EPA under the Obama administration seems to be moving in the direction of regulating CO2.'5 These moves are welcomed by the international community.1" In Washington, D.C., there seems to be a growing sense of urgency among President Obama's policy advisors to work with China on climate change. In early February 2009, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited China with climate change at the top of her agenda.17 From February to June 2009, an impressive list of high officials and political leaders took turns visiting China to discuss climate issues, including U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke, Senator John Kerry, and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi."* The prioritization of climate change during these visits to China by highlevel U.S. government officials suggests that climate change, compared with other issues like human rights, is high on the Obama administration's agenda in relations with China.19

Despite the growing pressures on China regarding climate issues, Premier Wen Jiabao indicated that China is not ready to accept a carbon cap at the United Nation's Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, to be held in December 2009, stating that "it's difficult for China to take quantified emission reduction quotas at the Copenhagen conference, because this country is still at an early stage of development."20 In July 2009 at the Group of Eight (G8) meeting in L'Aquila, Italy, the United States and European Union, again, failed to convince China or India to commit to a carbon cap.21

It is in this context that environmentalists in the West are increasingly intrigued by the normative question: how to make China "Green"? …

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