The evolution of China’s climate change policy: international and domestic political economy and a strategy for working with China

by Hongyi Lai

29 Nov 2021
Journal of the British Academy
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Abstract: For over a decade China has been the predominant carbon emitter in the global economy. It is thus imperative for us to understand the factors behind its climate change policy in the past decades. In the article, the author surveys the evolution of China’s climate change policy during 1990–2021 and applies theories from international relations and international political economy to explain it. It is found that (neo-)realism/nationalism and liberalism, two main theories in the field, offer only a partial explanation of China’s climate policy. The most effective theory is domestic sources. In particular, leadership power consolidation and a concern with economic growth seem to dictate China’s climate policy. The findings point to the analytical utility of domestic political economy in accounting for the climate stances of nation-states. Policy suggestions for external parties to interact with China on climate change are proposed. There the importance of involving China in global action against climate change, as well as the utility of the economy and trade leverage, soft power standing, and the prevention of extreme weather are discussed.

Keywords: Climate change, public policy, China, domestic politics, international relations, international political economy.

Article posted to the Journal of the British Academy, volume 9, supplementary issue 10 (Climate Policy, Regulation and Governance)

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