Climate Change Policy and Governance

In Eva Sternfeld (ed), Routledge Handbook of Environmental Policy in China. London/New York, Routledge, pp. 97-112.

In 2007, the same year in which China was ranked as the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases in total terms, major changes were also taking place in the country’s climate policy making and governance. Certainly, over the past couple of decades, China’s approach to addressing climate change has evolved from viewing it as a purely scientific concern to a foreign policy issue primarily discussed in international negotiations, to one that is now seen as fundamental to the nation’s socio-economic development.

The purpose of any policy is to provide direction and targets, which then form the basis or framework for decision making at international, national or local levels. Targets identified may be in line with the status quo or represent new directions. In the context of an already complex socio-economic development environment, the critical question facing China’s leaders is how to develop and implement climate policies and enforce related laws, mobilize finance and establish institutional mechanisms to address the challenges of a changing climate. China is facing a number of key challenges in reducing poverty, over-reliance on fossil fuels and maintaining economic growth while ensuring sustainable development. Rapid urbanization, uneven regional economic development, unregulated urban planning and limited per-capita natural resources have created vulnerabilities, such as water vulnerability, and increased exposure to risks of natural hazards like drought or heavy rainstorms. As a result of previous and ongoing socio-economic processes, coupled with climate change, China has already experienced significant impacts on agriculture, water resources, ecosystems and human health. The challenge for China is to address the risks and opportunities presented by climate change while also addressing long-term economic development needs, and in particular the needs of diverse rural and urban vulnerable populations, in more sustainable ways. Comprehensive climate policies are essential to ensure energy security, curb emissions and address increasing frequency and intensity of droughts, floods and extreme weather events.

This chapter aims to provide an overview of the rapid developments and evolutions in China’s government institutions and domestic climate policy, starting with a brief overview of historic developments and a presentation of the main policy drivers. It does so through the lens of basic national policies, communications and national government policy documents in key sectors like energy and economic development. As awareness of the complexities of climate risks has grown among China’s policy makers, approaches to it have shifted from treating it as an issue area to development of mitigation and adaptation-specific policies to an approach designed to unify other policies, programmes and responses.