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China: climate and energy politics

Under the name of “Where is China heading?” this project looks at the policy issues and consequences of China’s climate and energy situation. The report, commissioned by the Swedish government, is future oriented in scope and includes a discussion on the pros and cons of China’s engagement in climate mitigation, as well as its willingness to commit in international negotiations.

Inactive project


China already suffers from climate impacts that result mainly from the OECD countries’ industrialisation since the mid-nineteenth century. Adding to that the fact that China recently became the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, and is predicted to remain a leading emitter over the coming century, the pressure grows on China to commit internationally.

China is now the world’s fourth largest economy, but only a fraction of its population lives at expected OECD-standards. 800 million people still subsist on less than two dollars per day. The country’s main political priorities are economic development, poverty alleviation and social stability, and there is no doubt that energy is essential to ensure growth.

China will certainly be affected by climate alterations. It is also becoming increasingly clear that progress on global climate policy cannot be achieved without China’s participation. It is viewed as extremely unlikely that China would engage in climate mitigation at the expense of sustaining high growth.

The report addresses how Chinese growth can be generated in a more energy efficient manner and what could motivate China towards a more active role within international negotiations and domestically, on mitigation of, and adaptation to, climate change?

Project implementation

The project is largely a literature review, aiming to understand China’s underlying concerns and explore the options at hand for China, both from a domestic and an international perspective.

The analysis examines:

  • the historical relationship between development, economic growth and energy intensity and different assumptions about its future development;
  • a changing Chinese diplomatic strategy, and the Chinese discourse on issues such as fairness, self-interest, right to development and global responsibility; and
  • the Chinese awakening to the potentially far-reaching consequences of climate impacts.

SEI team

Guoyi Han
Guoyi Han

Senior Research Fellow

SEI Headquarters

Profile picture of Lailai Li
Lailai Li

SEI Affiliated Researcher

Related centres
SEI Headquarters

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