文章 Articles

Understanding China’s climate policy

The politics of global warming are increasingly focused on the stance taken by the world’s fastest growing economy. Zhuang Guiyang discusses the difficulty of analysing climate-change policy-making in China.

Article image

As the world gets warmer, the international community is turning up the heat on the Chinese position at international climate-change negotiations. A developing China has become a key part of the meetings; any changes in its position are accompanied by immediate speculation about the implications.

However, it is not easy to interpret China’s climate-change policy. The world’s largest developing nation is faced with unique challenges. Overseas academics can provide analyses, but they are limited by their positions and access to information. Meanwhile, Chinese academics in the field are either experts in international relations who are unfamiliar with global warming, or climate-change experts with no grasp of foreign relations.

There are two main ways to understand a nation’s stance in international environmental negotiations. One is an interests-based analysis; the other is a two-level game theory approach. Climate change is a complex issue and a country’s position is affected by multiple factors. No single mode of analysis is adequate to understand its complicated and changing reality. Therefore, an analysis of China’s climate-change stance should bring together both models.

In general, any nation acting on the international stage will seek to maximise its own interests. An analysis based on countries’ interests holds that two key factors will determine a nation’s position on climate change: the fragility of its environment, and the costs of reducing emissions. The more a nation is impacted by environmental problems, the keener it is to participate in international negotiations; the higher the costs of solving the problem are, the less willing it becomes. This model allows us to understand and identify those nations which promote, hinder, observe or remain neutral in the process.

But climate change is a shared, international problem. It is not only an environmental and economic issue, but also a matter of foreign relations and regional politics. Therefore, environmental and economic concerns are not the only determining factors in a nation’s stance. Since developed and developing nations have differing responsibilities under the international framework, this interests-based model more accurately reflects the relative positions of nations in the same category, and those of the developed countries in particular.

Developing nations like China have a limited ability to evaluate their vulnerability to climate impacts and the costs of mitigation. Academics in the developing world often cannot provide their negotiators and policymakers with sufficiently strong research. There is also a lack of negotiation experience and ability. Consequently, developing nations tend to take passive, defensive diplomatic stances. Therefore, the incentives provided to these nations become essential. These include financing, technology transfer, international carbon markets like the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and links with other negotiations on trade and international reputation.

Global warming presents nations with difficult choices between immediate and long-term interests, domestic and international priorities. China’s stance on climate change is formed by its policymakers’ awareness of all of these factors, and their judgements on the national interest.

Two-level game theory, a mode of analysis that originated in the United States, stresses the dual pressures – domestic and international – on policymakers. In this mode of analysis, the interaction of the two pressures must be used to understand a country’s behaviour at the negotiating table. This is helpful in explaining the American model of policy-making (academics warn that it may be less valuable in analysing other political systems). As a simple example, consider the Clinton administration, which signed the Kyoto Protocol under international pressure. The Bush administration then refused to ratify it, under pressure from domestic interest groups.

When it comes to climate change, domestic policymakers need to take two types of interest group into account: government departments and interest groups – from business and civil society. China’s domestic policymaking on climate is very different from that of the US. In China, policy is decided by a cross-departmental body, the National Coordination Committee on Climate Change. Its negotiation team is led by the National Development and Reform Commission – the country’s top economic planner – and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Delegates are largely drawn from the members of the coordination committee and – to a lesser extent – from the academies. NGOs, local government and business have only limited participation. China’s leaders are concerned about climate change, but they do not yet have a position of leadership when it comes to international policy. Differing departments have similar interests, and the top-down decision-making model means there are few disagreements between policymakers. For China, the climate-change issue is a diplomatic one, and negotiators have real power to make decisions.

The participation of Chinese social scientists in drafting the first Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports was very limited. A few academics took part independently, but they had no significant influence. Since academics from the developing world are unable to provide their negotiators with powerful scientific backing, they tend, too, to become passive and defensive. For example, although China’s academic and officials often point out that climate change is causing more frequent and fiercer extreme weather events – which have terrible consequences in China – there is no clear position on the danger levels for atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases. (The European Union’s target is in line with keeping the temperature rise under 2 degrees Celsius). This is due to the limits of scientific research in China and the lack of overall systematic analysis.  

Before the Kyoto Protocol came into effect, China viewed climate change as a matter of diplomacy. But when the IPCC’s third assessment report was published in 2001, the government realised its value, and China’s academics stepped up their participation in the production of the fourth report. There is still a gap between the rich world and developing countries in scientific research, but climate change is no longer simply seen as merely a diplomatic matter. The rapid economic growth that has occurred since 2001 also means resources and environmental issues have become more acute. Reducing power use and controlling greenhouse gases have become strategic goals in China’s 11th Five Year Plan and at the 17th National Congress of the Communist Party. Although reducing energy use is still given priority over climate-change goals, it can be used to bring domestic development targets and international climate-change goals into line.

 

Zhuang Guiyang is associate professor and deputy secretary at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences Sustainable Development Institute. His book, A Low-Carbon Economy: China’s Growth in a Changing Climate, was published last year.

 

Now more than ever…

chinadialogue is at the heart of the battle for truth on climate change and its challenges at this critical time.

Our readers are valued by us and now, for the first time, we are asking for your support to help maintain the rigorous, honest reporting and analysis on climate change that you value in a 'post-truth' era.

Support chinadialogue

发表评论 Post a comment

评论通过管理员审核后翻译成中文或英文。 最大字符 1200。

Comments are translated into either Chinese or English after being moderated. Maximum characters 1200.

评论 comments

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

二十年

气候变化要成为中国的政策优先领域,我觉得至少还需要二十年。

20 Years

I think it will take at least 20 years for the climate change to become the priority consideration in the policy making process in China.
(This comment was translated by Zheng Shen.)

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

很有参考价值

这篇文章很有参考价值,详细分析了气候国际谈判中的影响因素,不错

Of high reference value

This article is of high reference value in that it analyses the detailed considerations in the international climate policy negotiation. Well done.
(This comment was translated by Zheng Shen.)

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

主要是国内利益驱动

对中国政府来讲,尽管很久以来都把气候变化当作外交问题,但国际舆论并不真的重要,对其它国家也一样。
不过面对如此严峻的能源和环境危机,我相信中国政府是真的下决心节能减排了,这主要是国内利益驱动。

self-interest is the drive

For the Chinese government, despite the fact that it has been taking the climate change issue as a diplomatic one, international public opinion holds little sway over its policies in this field. As is the case with other countries. However, confronted with the current acute energy and environmental crisis, Chinese government, I believe, means business this time about cutting back on emissions. The change of heart comes from concern over its own interests.

(Comment translated by Yang bin)

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

贾鹤鹏

庄教授对气候谈判中相互博弈的各方势力做了深层次的探究。然而,在强调研究的不足正阻碍中国在国际气候谈判中的作用的同时,我们应当在气候变化的基本科学因素上做更多思考。2°C的升温标准(相当于二氧化碳450ppm浓度标准)真的是一个危险的界限?抑或它只是欧盟用来给中国和印度发展施压的托词?我认为兼而有之,但其中科学事实的意味大些。这么说的理由之一是在上世纪九十年代订立450ppm的标准时,并未考虑中国的崛起。而且,许多美国科学家在决定二氧化碳浓度危险等级过程中扮演了积极的角色,而把等级定的更低(450ppm或者更低)对美国的影响同样是负面的。在我看来,目前的情况是许多中国研究人员与官员并没有对不确定性的理由做认真考虑。

但是,问题是如果我们超过450ppm,我们是否能承受真正的危险?我建议尽可能的维持450ppm标准,而不是一味拒绝。如果我们没能达到450ppm的目标,我们只能说离目标越近,我们就越安全。
----贾鹤鹏
(本评论由Zheng Shen翻译)

Jia Hepeng/贾鹤鹏

Prof. Zhuang has deeply explored the gaming powers between climate negotiations. However, while suggesting lack of research is impeding China's role in the international climate talks, a more thinking should be given to the basic scientific aspects of climate change. Is the 2 C temperature rise (equivalent to 450 ppm CO2) really a dangerous cap, or just a pretext for EU to pressure China/India's growth? I would say it is a go-between, balancing more to the scientific truth. One evidence for this is when setting the 450 ppm in 1990s, China's rise has not been considered. Also, many US scientists have played an active role in determining the dangerous level of how much PPM, but the lower (450 ppm or lower) level will be more negative to US too. In this case, it seems to me, that many Chinese researchers and officials have not taken seriously with the excuse of uncertainties.
But, the question is if we exceed 450 ppm, could we bear the real dangers?
Then my suggestion is: Try to keep the 450 ppm as much as possible, rather than simply refusing it. In the case we really cannot reach the 450 ppm target, we can only say the closer we are with the 450 ppm, the less risky we will be.