China’s Climate Change Policy and its outcomes
China is the key contributor to the carbon dioxide emission in the world and it released 10.48 Giga Tons of carbon dioxide in 2016 (Olivier, Schure ; Peters, 2017, p.42). Necessarily, the huge flourished economy and overgrowth population of China are responsible to this fact. Per capita emission of China has been estimated as 7.43 in 2016 (Olivier et.al, 2017, p.43). China follows an adapted version of capitalism in which state and private entrepreneurship of production accompany with consumption and distribution determined by driving market forces and it is often referred as market socialism (Shleifer ; Vishny,1994). After 1978, under the presidency of Deng Xioping, China was subjected to remarkable reforms leading toward a liberal economic path to some extent. This reforms led to higher consumption and economic growth with the tradeoff of environmental quality. In order to tackle international ill reputation regarding this emitting pollution, China had already introduced low carbon energy policy since 2006. Thirteenth five-year plan of government has launched policies and actions for the period from 2016 to 2020 (National Development and Reform Commission of China NDRCC, 2017). This policy mainly subsumes mitigation, adaptation and social participation strategies to be carried out throughout the China to combat climate changes (NDRCC, 2017). NDRCC (2017) further articulates that enhancing the emission less economy is the current policy of China in terms of domestic and international level. This essay explores the China’s performance in past and present in terms of climate change and its political, institutional, socio-economic factors affecting the outcomes.
1. I argue that China shows significant output in the environmental policymaking because the strong government has eschewed corporate lobbying and climate denial thoughts. Further, control and command method is more efficient to produce more outputs.
2. The outcome of the policy is not significant in the real sense because central government does not have more control over local governments to closely monitor policy implementation due to higher transaction cost, imperfect information and lack of public participation.
3. I argue that geopolitics of green technology is the motivational factor to China to increase its share on non-conventional energy sources in long-run.
Still, China possesses the highest part of the emission that is 26 per cent in 2016 (Olivier et.al, 2017, p.11). However, the non-conventional energy source’s shares increased to 13.3 per cent from 2015 to 2016 and carbon intensity has curtailed by 6.6 percent (NDRCC, 2017). This is a sizable amount within the one year and this indicates that if China travels on same route with its previous commitments, it could reduce its emission level to some extent. National Energy Administration office (NEA), commenced in 2006 is responsible for regulation of energy industries and formation of energy strategies toward low carbon policy (Jiang, Sun ; Liu, 2010, p.4257). For China’s government, climate change is basically development matter which necessitates coordination among economy, society and environment to solve the problem. Further, tradeoff between economic growth and environmental quality cannot be allowed (Jiang et.al, 2010, p.4257).
Political Structure of China –State will fix it
China is one party country and steering committee of the communist party takes all decisions regarding the fate and future route of the country. Since country follows the principles of market socialism, the state acts as both entrepreneur and decision maker in the production of goods, but it does not mean a real socialism but it is a state capitalism. However, other chains of the economy are driven by market conditions as well. Environmental policy is also applied to the same route. Some researchers refer this condition as “Authoritarian Environmentalism” featuring the non-participatory approach of the public and necessarily, this approach thwarts activism, lobbing and judicial rights of public to act against government decision (Beeson, 2010, cited by Lo, 2015, p.152). Evidently, corporate lobbying is the crucial threat to feasible climate change policymaking in the world. Many organizations funded by big corporations ideologically polarize the climate change issue and disseminate such thoughts in USA (Farrell, 2016, p.92). These efforts highly contribute to acceptance of climate change denials among the public. Despite many criticisms against this approach of China among scholars, the main advantage of this approach is that it eschews the corporate lobbying in the political arena, therefore, government is able to conceptualize the issue of climate change in favour of the policy.
Another important aspect of China’s political set up is that since government control over the economy (in terms of macroeconomic factors) and very rigid constraints to sue government against its policymaking unlike a liberal democratic country such as the USA, State could fix its rules over the enterprises relatively easy. Evidently, even after the economic reforms, China has strong government due to its authoritarian nature. Therefore, in case of environmental governance, monitoring and inspection of environmental standards are relatively easy and it results in quick output. The authoritarian environmentalism practised by China restricts the individual freedom that thwarts people from engaging in unsustainable environmental habits and leads them toward sustainability (Beeson, 2010, cited by Gilley, 2012, p.288). Studies show that aforesaid approach of the government is more effective to offer policy outputs than outcome, however, it creates swift and centralized response to environmental issues and it could mobilize the state and social actors with resources to solve the problem (Gilley, 2012, p.287,300). Further, China substantially uses command and control method between state and market to regulate environmental standards (Lo, 2015, p.152). Unlike liberal democratic system, practising market-oriented approach such as penalty (tax) and Incentives (subsidies), under authoritarian rule, command and control method is more effective.
Meritocracy in policymaking –Technocrats will fix it
It is proved that sometimes more public opinion and participation causes negative effect on environmental problems since general public have been polarized by media and corporations and if public does not have proper awareness about the issue, existing democracy causes worse effects. Interestingly, Plumwood (1995, p.137) argued that liberal democracy does not possess the ability to adapt and correct the environmental problem due to radical inequality prevailing within the democratic politics. In case of authoritarian environmentalism, participation is limited to technocrats those who support to offer appropriate scientific feasible knowledge and technocrats are directed by Eco elites (Shearman ; Smith, 2007, cited by Gilley, 2012, p.288). I argue that participation of technocrats in the policymaking results in meritocracy in environmentalism and it will form a positive effect on the quality in long-run period. However, apart from general observations, some scholars have criticized that when government launched action plan in 2013, targets were set by using insufficient scientific data and it also excluded medical professionals in air pollution abatement measures (Huang, 2018).
Implementation –Implicit resistance from local governments
Even though authoritarian environmentalism of China provides better output, the outcome of the policy and its implementation in next level is highly skeptical. Even though China passed Renewable Energy Act in 2005, the increasing rate of renewable energy is not much significant since fossil fuel usages increased in higher rate in consequent three years (Wang, Yin, ; Li, 2010). Contemplating China’s extent and population, the effectiveness of centralized decision making in grass root level is low. This is the major challenge to implement the green policies in future and it creates low outcomes of the central policy. Central government has allowed decentralization of policy making (merely) and policy implementation (almost substantially) to the local governments of China after reformation period (Lo, 2015, p.153). Local governments enjoy more freedom from the center and central government faces the problem of regulating local governments and local enterprises, consuming more energy (Lo, 2015, p.158). It is also interesting to note that Lo (2015, p.158) observed that while central follows the authoritarian environmentalism in both policymaking and implementation, local bodies’ behavior reflects some characters of neoliberal environmentalism in low level, since the center has less access for the right information from local and they have to hinge on self-evaluating reports of local governments. Qi, Ma, Zhang, ; Li (2008, p.394) argued that attaining higher economic growth along with energy-intensive industries is the main objective of local governments of China. Therefore, local governments hesitate to give priority to emission cut program in an intensive way. Qi et.al (2008) further articulated that for local bodies, climate change is the issue of central government and international concern. Lack of public participation in the decision making in local bodies and lacks of proper awareness to the people are the crucial causes of this situation. Even though the report emphasizes the participation in climate change policy (NDRCC,2017, p. 27), it merely means providing awareness to the public but not a concrete contribution to the policymaking. Indeed, right to information is the key variable to drive the corruption-free local governments in grass root level. Under China’s present set up, isolated public and top to bottom policymaking causes poor outcomes in environmental policies in real sense. Most importantly, In China, unlike other democratic countries, anti-incumbency effect of public cannot be driven to the political changes.
Geopolitics of Energy –using green technology instead of arms
Geopolitics may be defined as matters and geographical arrangement of such things construct the contents of power over the world and nations struggle for the political dominance at the global level (Dalby,2013, p.38). Energy and climate change are used to geopolitics of the world hegemonies, therefore, inevitably, as a strong economic and military power, China falls into these geopolitics. In previous years, USA targeted China for their environmental commitments since USA policymakers scared about China’s advancement in green technology. From their point of view, for USA, green technology will create more jobs and scopes in future. Therefore, if China is ahead in the race, it will afflict the USA economy in long-run. Former USA president Brack Obama’s speech (2010) in a bipartisan meeting at White House clearly gives an evident to this trend.
We can’t afford to stand by as our dependence on foreign oil deepens, as we
keep on pumping out the deadly pollutants that threaten our air and our water
and the lives and livelihoods of our people. And we can’t stand by as we let
China race ahead to create the clean energy jobs and industries of the future.
We should be developing those renewable energy sources, and creating those
high-wage, high-skill jobs right here in the United States of America (Obama, 2010, cited by Lee, 2010).
In addition to that, United States Trade Representatives alleged that China provide unfair subsidies to green industries and this is the violation of the rules of World Trade Organization (Eisen,2011, p.9-10). As climate change is contemplated as security issue in many countries, in this competition, some researchers argue that if the USA does not take proper action to make a transition from traditional to green technologies in the future, it will make the USA less power in the world and consequently, China will achieve supremacy in the world (Eisen, 2011, p.11-12). Recently, it is noticeable that China established huge solar power station in the world and it has fixed future targets as increasing carbon sink and non-fossil fuels in 13th five-year plan (NDRCC,2017).
The geopolitics of climate change between USA and China had created a healthy competition favouring environmental quality and it provides more incentive for China to invest in green technology in future. The 13th five-year plan of country clearly expresses this interest to be at the frontline for the green race.
Considering overall activities of China in climate change issues, though local governments are found as a barrier at present, the commitment of central government and geopolitical aspects contribute to direct the policy in a right route in future.
In conclusion, this essay critically explores the climate policy of China and its effects on both domestic and global scale. Firstly, as a strong government, state regulates the standards of environment and command and control method is used efficiently to reduce emission of the country. Within the short period, China shows positive outputs and dramatic changes in transition of green economy. Secondly, meritocracy in the policymaking and implementation results in more positive effects to country. However, under the authoritarian regime, it excludes active public participation and activism in ground level. The local governments give less priority to the emission cut programs to the industries coming under their purview, and central government directions do not properly work in local governments’ level due to higher transaction cost, growth-oriented approach of local bodies and imperfect information. Therefore, outcome of the policy is not much impressive. Finally, geopolitics in climate change causes a competition among present hegemons and China tempts to win superpower in this game. This scenario will favour the controlling climate changes to some extent.