Addressing Climate Change in China

Yesterday, I attended the Australia-China Climate Change Forum held at the UNSW.
The keynotes were Greg Combet, the Federal Minister for Climate Change and Xie Zhenhua, Vice-Chairman of the National Reform and Development Commission, PRC. Many of the key people surrounding climate change science, economics and policy both in Australia and in China were there.
It was reassuring to hear that China is thinking very seriously about implementing policies to reduce carbon intensity of their industry, and reduce GHG emissions. In fact, they have moved beyond thinking, and are introducing pilot emission trading scheme programs in seven provinces including Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen. These will start running from 2013, and are envisaged to transform into a national ETS by 2020. There are many things around these pilots and a future national scheme that need to be further worked out and implemented, but this a start. It seems that some form of carbon pricing will find its way in the Chinese economy in the next 7-8 years or so. This will inevitably mean that the associated costs will be transmitted throughout the economy, and are likely to affect consumers in several key areas including electricity and transportation. So, prices of certain goods and services are going to rise, and there are still many, many people in China who need affordable access to these goods and services.
The key question that follows from this is what is the public support in China for implementation of stringent carbon emission reduction policies? Even though a different political system, the importance of public support is no less significant in China than it is in Australia. If many people, especially within the rapidly growing Chinese middle class see climate change policies as threatening the continuing rise of their economic prosperity, the Chinese government is going to have a very hard sell on these policies. We are likely to see caps on emissions that are too high, generous allocations of grandfathered permits, and consequently minimal actual carbon prices. The Chinese government will have to be very careful in how they progress with climate change policies so as to avoid the public backlash that the current Labor government in Australia has experienced.

Author: Tiho Ancev

Tiho Ancev is a Professor of Agricultural and Resource Economics in the School of Economics, University of Sydney. His main research areas are agricultural, environmental, natural resource and energy economics. Tiho’s main contributions have been in water economics and policy, economics of energy, economics of air pollution and climate change policies, and economics of precision agriculture and agricultural input use. He has published widely on these topics in top international peer reviewed journals. Tiho has led and contributed to national and international research projects in these research areas. He is currently the Managing Editor-in-Chief of the Australian Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics.