China playing an important, even outsized, role in climate
原稿来源 China Watch 2019-1-28
Since becoming the largest manufacturer in the world, and replacing the United States to become
the world's largest carbon emitter in 2007, China has been under pressure from the international
community to reduce its carbon emissions. Although some voices are critical of China, the
country is still active in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and promoting cooperation with
developing countries in combating the climate change.
However, most of the criticism is based on the direct trade in energy, raw materials and other
commodities or emission volume resulting from the production processes in China, ignoring the
international flow of resources and environmental factors hidden behind a large number of
traded manufactured goods and services. Nearly one-third of the carbon emissions in China
result from the demand from overseas markets.
Compared with the direct trade in natural resources such as energy and raw materials, the
embodied flow of trade, better reveals the real sources of resource consumption and pollution
emissions resulting from the trade in goods and services.
In other words, the cross-border flow of resources and environment factors (including the total
amount of natural resources consumed and pollutants created directly and indirectly in the
production process of products or services) through trade activities reflect the global flow and
allocation pattern of resources and environment factors in a more reasonable way.
From this perspective, China is taking a large share of the resource costs and pollution burden of
As the world's factory and the largest manufacturer in recent decades, China has played a unique
role as "resource hub" in the global supply chain, namely, primary products are imported into
China and then processed before being sold to overseas markets, especially to developed
A recent study from Peking University shows that China's total energy resources exploited
volume accounts for 18 percent of the global volume in 2010, ranking the highest in the world.
Due to the massive export of energy intensive products, China has become the world's third-
largest exporter of embodied energy by net volume, after Russian and Saudi Arabia.
Similarly, the rapid growth of China's export volume has resulted in a sharp rise in emissions.
Specifically, the emissions volume serving the demand of the overseas market tripled from
0.59 trillion tons in 2001 to 1.97 trillion tons in 2009, which triggered the ratio of emissions for
overseas market demand rising from 20.8 percent in 2002 to 31.8 percent in 2007. This means
that nearly one-third of China's annual production of carbon emissions does not serve its own
consumers, but meets the needs of foreign consumers.
As a major manufacturing and trading country, China has shouldered tremendous resource costs
and environmental burden for global consumers while delivering high-quality and low-cost
industrial manufactured goods to the world.
On the other hand, due to its large population and relatively low average income, China's per
capita resources consumption is significantly lower than the world average, ranking 93 among
186 nations in 2010, 20 percent of the per capita resources consumption of the US and 25
percent that of Japan.
Nevertheless, in response to climate change, China has taken the initiative to undertake its
obligations and actively fulfill its commitments to improving its efficiency of energy use and
According to the 2018 Annual Report on China's Policy and Action to Combat Climate Change,
China's carbon emissions per unit of GDP growth has been reduced by 46 percent compared
with that in 2005, reaching the goal of a 40-45 percent reduction target by 2020 ahead of time
through its continuous efforts.
As an important contributor to and leading country in global climate governance, China not only
actively fulfills its own carbon reduction commitments, but attaches importance to cooperating
with other developing countries in combating climate change.
In 2015, China contributed 20 billion yuan ($2.96 billion) to the establishment of a cooperation
fund for developing countries fighting climate change. In 2016, it launched 10 low carbon
emissions pilot projects, 100 programs designed to moderate climate change, and 1,000
training projects in how to respond to climate change in underdeveloped nations.
China's historical and per capita emission levels are significantly lower than those of developed
countries. Out of the traditional framework of the climate finance system, China has set up
"voluntary" and "complementary" climate assistance programs for developing countries, which
is the unique contribution China has made to global climate governance and sustainable