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Lowy Institute Paper 29
China and the global environment LEARNING FROM THE PAST,
ANTICIPATING THE FUTURE
First published for Lowy Institute for International Policy 2009
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Photos © Katherine Morton copyright 2009 Maps © ANU cartography copyright 2009
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National Library of Australia Cataloguing-in-Publication entry Author: Morton, Katherine.
Title: China and the global environment : learning from the past, anticipating the future / Katherine Morton.
Edition: 1st ed. ISBN: 9781921004407 (pbk.)
Series: Lowy Institute paper ; 29. Notes: Includes index.
Subjects: Economic development--Environmental aspects--China. Population--Environmental aspects. China--Environmental conditions.
China--Population--Environmental aspects China--Economic conditions--2000-
Dewey Number: 333.70951
Printed and bound in Australia using fibre supplied from plantation or sustainably managed forests. Inks used in this book are vegetable based (soy or linseed oil).
Katherine Morton is a Fellow in the Department of International Relations, College of Asia and the Pacific, The Australian National University. She is a specialist on China and Global Politics with over a decade of experience working on environmental problems at the local, national, and international levels. For the past six years, she has been conducting research on the Tibetan Plateau looking at the impacts of climate change on local communities as well as the implications for regional security. She is currently working with international partners to develop a visual cartography of climate related risks across the Greater Himalayas. Dr Morton is also the Chief Investigator in a Ford Foundation funded collaborative research project on Sino-Australian security relations.
I would like to thank the Alcoa Foundation for their generous financial support for the research project. A special thank you also to Ms Chérie Rogers for her dedicated research assistance. I have benefited greatly from her careful documentation of relevant sources. Professor Geremie Barmé, Professor Will Steffen, and Dr Mark Matthews all took time out of their busy schedules to provide valuable comments. I am most grateful for their feedback. This paper would not have seen the light of day without the unflagging support of Andrew Shearer, Director of Studies at the Lowy Institute. He generously supported an alternative approach toward informing the policy debate on China and the environment that took time to develop. His good humour over rescheduling deadlines will not be forgotten. Andrew also provided judicious feedback on the final draft of the paper. For editorial assistance, I am indebted to Mary Louise Hickey at the Department of International Relations, Australian National University (ANU), and to Joanne Bottcher from the Lowy Institute for proofreading the text.
The research for the historical part of the paper was conducted during my sabbatical time spent at St Antony’s College, University of Oxford. I am most grateful to Professor Rosemary Foot for sponsoring my visit. Having the time for contemplation was invaluable. The Department of International Relations at the ANU also deserves acknowledgement for allowing me the time to write the paper. The section on melting glaciers has benefited from my recent collaboration with Isabel Hilton, Director
of Chinadialogue, Dr Stephen Edwards, Director of the Hazard Research Centre at University College London, and Dr Randolph Kent, Director of the Humanitarian Futures Program at Kings College London.
A final thank you to my colleagues and friends in China who over the years have provided enthusiastic support for my work. The ideas presented in this paper have been a long time in the making. They reflect many years of discussions and engagement with Chinese scholars, government officials, and environmental activists. In the interests of confidentiality, many names have been excluded from the text. A special note of gratitude to Ma Jun, Lo Suikei, Zhao Zhong, Jiang Kejun, Zhang Haibin, Zhang Junhua, Dai Qing, Zhang Shiqiu, and Bao Maohong.
Contents Executive Summary vii
Chapter 1: The legacy of environmental statecraft in China 15
Chapter 2: Governing from above in the new century 31
Chapter 3: Beyond the state: green advocates and entrepreneurs 55
Chapter 4: Global environmental leadership: climate change revisited 73
Chapter 5: Implications for Sino-Australian environmental cooperation 97
Conclusion: Learning from the past, anticipating the future 111
Notes 117 Bibliography 139 Lowy Institute Papers: other titles in the series 153
Executive summary One of the greatest dilemmas of the early 21st century is how to satisfy the demands of densely populated states in the context of a global environmental crisis. As the world’s biggest polluter and prominent emerging world power, China is at the centre of the global debate. Worsening pollution trends, increasing resource scarcity, and widespread ecological degradation have serious implications for China’s ongoing modernisation drive. The spillover effects across borders also pose a challenge to its relations with the outside world. Although China’s per capita CO2 emissions are low relative to the United States and Australia, they already exceed the world average. In 2007, China overtook the United States to become the world’s largest aggregate emitter.
In the lead up to the Copenhagen Climate Summit in December 2009, China’s position on mitigating CO2 emissions has received considerable attention from both scholars and practitioners. While Chinese participation in a global agreement on emissions reduction is imperative and therefore merits serious attention, it is important not to lose sight of broader questions relating to the capacity to adapt. A critical question is whether China’s evolving system of environmental governance can respond effectively to deal with environmental crisis both within and beyond territorial boundaries. Current analyses tend to highlight either negative or positive future scenarios depending on whether the focus is upon worsening environmental trends, or the emergence of new environmental policies and institutional reforms. All
CHINA AND THE GLOBAL ENVIRONMENT
too often, historical patterns of governance are overlooked. Seen from the perspective of Chinese history, it is evident that a form of strong and clearly directed environmental statecraft has existed in China for centuries and continues today.
It is within the broader context of historical transformations inside China, rising environmental challenges, and changing power relations at the global level that this paper is situated. A major aim is to locate the contemporary debate over China’s environmental crisis within a longer time-frame. What lessons can be drawn from China’s past? How has the Chinese approach towards the environment changed over time? And what is the potential for enhancing international cooperation?
From a policy perspective, history matters because it forces consideration of how best to adapt to environmental change on the basis of past practice. A deeper understanding of the Chinese experience is critical for the purpose of arriving at a more complete understanding of China’s current approach towards dealing with environmental problems. More broadly, it offers important lessons for the global effort in tackling large-scale environmental change. A central theme running through this paper is the importance of learning from the past in order to anticipate the future.
A second aim of the paper is to investigate contemporary changes in environmental governance by looking beyond the state to consider the growing influences of market forces and citizen participation. In assessing the potential for a more inclusive form of environmental protection, special attention is given to identifying the limits of state control and the opportunities that can be gained from broader public engagement. In the contemporary era, any assessment of China’s potential to take a leadership role in responding to environmental crisis requires a detailed understanding of what is taking place at the domestic level. Equal attention also needs to be given to the ways in which China’s environmental challenges are linked to global developments. Hence, a third aim of the paper is to locate China’s environmental governance within a broader global context.
The paper begins by tracing the historical relationship between the environment and state power. Climate, water, and forests provide useful
prisms through which to interpret China’s environmental statecraft across time. State practices aimed at adapting to cl