News & Media
News and Media
China’s quest for a balance between economic growth and a low-carbon future is a challenge no country has managed to meet before. The eventual success remains uncertain, SEI researchers say.
- China is undergoing demographic, economic and social transitions at a scale and speed the world has never before seen, but energy security and looming climate change concerns have prompted China to place climate mitigation at the core of its development strategy.
This is the theme of a recently published SEI article on China’s quest for economic growth in a climate constrained world. The article, entitled “China’s Climate and Energy-security Dilemma: Shaping a New Path of Economic Growth”, was written by SEI’s China cluster members Karl Hallding, Guoyi Han and Marie Olsson and published in the Journal of Current Chinese Affairs.
Download the publication here
Entering unchartered territory
The article provides an overview of the latest developments in climate and energy politics with respect to China’s “Scientific Development Concept”, the country’s strategic guide for socio-economic development.
The article argues that China’s dilemma regarding energy and climate security is closely linked to its struggle to master a low-carbon development path in the midst of rapid industrialisation and urbanisation.
- The development path China will have to discover lies in truly unchartered territory where no country has yet travelled, the authors say.
Several dilemmas, few solutions
There is no doubting China’s justifiable right to development, but development is dependent on growth, and growth is fuelled by energy. Over the past decade the question of how development can take place with greater energy efficiency and fuelled by resources other than coal, gas, and oil has been at the centre of Chinese policy making. This means China faces several underlying dilemmas:
Firstly, China is at a development stage of rapid industrialization and urbanization at a time when the issue of global climate security has reached the apex of the global agenda.
Secondly, mounting domestic development challenges make it imperative for China to maintain high economic growth to finance a wide variety of much needed social reforms, particularly reducing growing social disparities and providing development opportunities for the almost 50 per cent of the population that lives on less than two USD a day.
Thirdly, China faces a great challenge in transforming its energy structure in order to meet the global target of a maximum increase of 2 degrees Celsius.
And finally, as China has recently become the world’s largest carbon emitter, it will also prove difficult to keep to its foreign policy ambition to act as a “responsible great power”.
- Climate change is moving up the Chinese political agenda, but it is unlikely that the government will agree to any climate mitigation actions that compromise the national targets of sustaining economic growth, maintaining social stability and alleviating poverty, Karl Hallding says. He argues that any proposed climate mitigation deal must therefore be understood in the context of China’s development strategy and its close connection to energy security.
Institutional capacity compromises progress
Since China, until only a few years ago, paid limited attention to climate change there are no policies with the overarching aim of mitigating climate change. However, the outlook is not necessarily all gloom. Although China’s climate-related policy framework is driven by concerns other than climate change it does not make these policies less effective in curbing China’s carbon intensity. But in order to do so, the country’s institutional and administrative capacity to implement laws and regulation must improve.
- Effective and independent legal institutions along with a lack of real opportunities for bottom-up initiatives are absent from the administrative structure and the decision-making process in China, and consequently the majority of implemented policy measures to date have been administrative by nature, Hallding says.
Research on the economics of climate change that SEI is currently completing with the Chinese Economists 50 Forum, The Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and the Stern Team, shows the increasing role economic instruments will play for China’s transition to a low-carbon economy.