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Can China Afford to Commit itself an Emissions Cap? An Economic and Political Analysis

Posted: 11 Jan 2001  

ZhongXiang Zhang

Tianjin University - College of Management and Economics


What has been done and what could be expected from China in combating global climate change is an issue of perennial concern at the international climate change negotiations. This article aims to address this very challenging issue from both economic and political perspectives. By analyzing the historical contributions of inter-fuel switching, energy conservation, economic growth and population expansion to China's CO2 emissions during the period 1980-1997, the article first demonstrates that the criticism on China being a "free-rider" enjoying benefits from other countries' efforts to abate greenhouse gas emissions but not taking due responsibilities of its own cannot hold its ground. Next, we analyze what the economic effects would be if China's carbon emissions in 2010 were cut by 20% and 30%, respectively, relative to the baseline. We found that China's GNP losses under the two less restrictive carbon limits are in the same range as the often reported estimates for industrialized countries under very restrictive carbon limits. Then the article envisions some efforts and commitments that could be expected from China until its per capita income catches up with the level of middle-developed countries. They range from demonstrating efforts towards slowing its greenhouse gas emissions growth at some point between the first commitment period and 2020 to committing to a combination of a targeted carbon intensity level with an emissions cap on a particular sector around or beyond 2020. By emphasizing the win-win strategies, these efforts and commitments could be unlikely to severely jeopardize China's economic development and, at the same time, would give the country more leverage at the post-Kyoto climate change negotiations. Finally, the article is concluded with the argument that combating global climate change is in China's interest. It will be beneficial to a more sustainable development of the Chinese economy as well as to the global climate.

JEL Classification: D58, Q43, Q48, R13

Suggested Citation

Zhang, ZhongXiang, Can China Afford to Commit itself an Emissions Cap? An Economic and Political Analysis. Energy Economics, Vol. 22, No. 6, Pp. 587-614, October 2000. Available at SSRN:

ZhongXiang Zhang (Contact Author)

Tianjin University - College of Management and Economics ( email )

92 Weijin Road
Nankai District
Tianjin, Tianjin 300072
+86 22 87370560 (Phone)


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