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China’s changing economy and emissions trajectory: following global trends

Mukul Sanwal and Xinzhu Zheng

Climate Policy, 2018, vol. 18, issue 1, 36-41

Abstract: A key climate policy issue and debate is the future trajectory of emissions of carbon dioxide of countries, their peaking dates, and rates of decline after peaking. This article analyses China’s emissions trajectory in terms of global historical trends distinguishing between industry, infrastructure, and urbanization. Growth of emissions from industrialization and infrastructure development has stabilized in 2014 with saturation levels being reached, while the process of urbanization continues with the shift of the economy to the services sector, with reduced energy use, and this is a global trend. The future trajectory of emissions will be shaped largely by growth of transport and building-related services which directly impact on and are shaped by middle-class levels of well-being. These are areas where convergence with levels of services in other urbanized countries is an important element of national policy. This global trend has not been adequately taken into account in modelling and macroeconomic analysis which ignore social processes. The article concludes that China’s 13th Five Year Plan (2016–2020) seeks to achieve a ‘moderately well-off society’ while putting a cap on total energy demand by modifying the drivers of consumption emissions compared with countries that urbanized earlier. The adoption of a public policy priority of dense mixed-use urban form, public transport, energy efficiency to enable energy system reform, and digital economy could be a model for others.Policy relevanceThe article redefines climate change in terms of social processes as urban form and notions of well-being lock-in increasing levels of future emissions of carbon dioxide. There are implications for research in assessing how best drivers of emissions can be modified without affecting well-being, including renewable and digital technologies and human behaviours that drive patterns of natural resource use as well as the identification of leverage points. There are also broader implications for replacing the development cooperation model of global climate governance to focus on new values recognizing interdependencies for sharing responsibility as well as prosperity.

Date: 2018
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