Climate Change: The China Problem

50 Pages Posted: 30 Apr 2008

Date Written: 2008


The central problem confronting climate change scholars and policymakers is how to create incentives for China and the United States to make prompt, large emissions reductions. China recently surpassed the United States as the largest greenhouse gas emitter, and its projected future emissions far outstrip those of any other nation. Although the United States has been the largest emitter for years, China's emissions have enabled critics in the United States to argue that domestic reductions will be ineffective and will transfer jobs to China. These two aspects of the China Problem, Chinese emissions and their influence on the political process in the United States, result in a mutually supportive but ultimately destructive dance between the two countries. This article argues that a post-Kyoto international agreement and other measures are necessary but will not create sufficient incentives to induce China, and ultimately the United States, to act. Instead, the article draws on the fact that the United States and Europe account for 41% of Chinese exports to propose a novel means of changing both countries' incentives. The article suggests that private or public schemes in the United States and Europe to disclose product carbon emissions and corporate carbon footprints can create consumer and other pressure that will induce firms to impose supply chain requirements on Chinese and other suppliers. This form of global private governance can create market-based incentives for China and the United States to reduce emissions directly and to make credible emissions reduction commitments in the post-Kyoto era.

Keywords: climate change, greenhouse gases, carbon footprints, governance, environmental law, international law, corporate behavior, labeling

Suggested Citation

Vandenbergh, Michael P., Climate Change: The China Problem (2008). Southern California Law Review, Vol. 81, 2008, Vanderbilt Public Law Research Paper No. 08-09, Vanderbilt Law and Economics Research Paper No. 08-15, Available at SSRN:

Michael P. Vandenbergh (Contact Author)

Vanderbilt University - Law School ( email )

131 21st Avenue South
Nashville, TN 37203-1181
United States

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