Global Warming and East Asia: The Domestic and International Politics of Climate Change

By Paul G. Harris | Go to book overview

5

Navigating between “luxury” and “survival” emissions

Tensions in China’s multilateral and bilateral climate change diplomacy

Yuka Kobayashi


Introduction

With the emergence of global environmental problems (e.g. ozone, climate change and bio-diversity) in the 1980s, and the introduction of the concept of “sustainable development” by the 1987 Brundtland Report, Our Common Future, the environment has become an important area of international focus (WCED 1987). While there are many studies in international relations and in law on the formation, compliance and effectiveness of global environmental regimes, there are relatively few on developing countries such as China. Moreover, China’s environmental cooperation has received much less attention compared to those of security and economic cooperation. This may, however, be a key oversight. As reported by The New York Times the ability of the world to “head off” global warming “may depend on China” (Boffey 1993). Indeed, how China manages the tension between maximizing growth and sustainable development will have major effects on the global environment. In 1991, China contributed 11 percent of the world’s total carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and is currently the world’s second largest emitter after the United States (Ohshita 1998:19). It has, in fact, been argued that China could surpass the United States and become the number one emitter of CO2 by 2020 (Smil 1991:61).

China’s participation and cooperation in the climate change regime is particularly important for two reasons. First, China’s impact on climate change is forecasted to be enormous: China’s large population, rapid economic growth and heavy reliance on fossil fuels collectively imply large increases in CO2 emissions and thereby a disproportionate influence on climate change. Seventy-five percent of China’s power comes from coal, which emits twice as much CO2 as natural gas and oil. This makes China’s influence over the climate change issue much greater than in other global warming issues like ozone or chlorofluorocarbons. Second, since China pursues a policy of rapid economic growth, any financial constraints, such as changing the composition of energy resources, is resisted (see Chapter 3). Compared to biological diversity, in which China takes a more cooperative stance, the climate change regime is expensive, imposing broad constraints on the economy. Climate change is also a controversial issue that involves North-South equity problems, and is one which is difficult for a developing country like China to participate

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