Event summary by Isabella Rathleff
This week’s Oxford Climate Society lecture on China's relationship to national and international carbon emissions and climate change was given by Ma Jun, Director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs (IPEA) in Beijing and Dr. Judith Shapiro, Director of the Masters in Natural Resources and Sustainable Development at the American University in Washington DC.
Dr. Shapiro presented on general developments in China’s recent relationship with climate change, with a particular focus on President Xi Jinping’s September 2020 statement outlining plans for the country to become carbon neutral by 2060. Assessing the likelihood of this goal being achieved, alongside that of achieving peak emissions by 2030, Dr. Shapiro discussed her book, China Goes Green (co-authored with Yifei Li).
In the book, Shapiro & Li found that most environmental action being undertaken in China follows a 'top-down' approach. By failing to address the needs and concerns of everyday people, Dr. Shapiro argued that this approach has and will continue to hinder the effectiveness of measures put in place and to damage the popular relationship with the government.
For example, a recycling scheme has recently been implemented in Shanghai which calls on all residents to recycle their waste in appropriate bins at specific hours of the day, with various social or economic repercussions, such as damage to social credit, for failure to do so. This kind of coercive regulation without popular consent is the kind which, Shapiro & Li found in China Goes Green, is detrimental to the state's efforts to mitigate climate change.
Furthermore, Dr. Shapiro argued that the use of quantitative targets, such as the government's goal of increasing the proportion of ‘good air days' to 80%, encourages corner-cutting. Dr. Shapiro concluded by suggesting that what is taking place in China is environmental authoritarianism, rather than authoritarian environmentalism.
Ma Jun explained the importance of public access to carbon emissions information if China's climate goals are to be successfully implemented. Based in Beijing, he and the IPEA have introduced databases of climate-related statistics, the most famous of which is the Blue Map scheme which maps the carbon emissions progress of 120 Chinese cities. The IPEA has also introduced public access AI such as the Global Brands map, and computerised methodology which can be used by companies to calculate their carbon footprints. Ma argued that providing access to this information for big companies based in China encourages a sense of climate responsibility and facilitates improvements in carbon emissions. When presented together, he hopes that the IPEA’s public access schemes will help China reach the President’s “ambitious” climate and carbon goals and reduce public frustration with governmental action plans.
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