China, climate change, environmental law

Document Type



Domestically and internationally, by the first half of 2009 it was already questionable whether the Copenhagen Conference could achieve anything. Anthony Giddens warned-in an otherwise inspiring book on climate change-that "doomsday is no longer a religious concept, a day of spiritual reckoning, but a possibility imminent in our society and economy." In such a context, it becomes imperative to revisit some of the fundamental issues in the Kyoto Protocol framework. Are timetables and targets really the best way to regulate climate change? Does the current framework create bad politics? Where are the powerful driving forces towards a low-carbon society?

This essay is motivated by these fundamental questions. It aims to offer an analytic framework for understanding the policy-making in one of the countries that is a key member of the world's "carbon community"-China. It tries to expose the organizing conceptual frameworks through which climate change as an issue is defined, understood, and reconciled. In other words, how climate change is conceptualized. A better understanding of the conceptualization process in key countries will shed light on ways to improve the design of the existing international framework. In doing so, this essay joins an increasing body of literature on framing climate change in domestic or international arenas. It is a widely shared view in this body of literature that the United States (before President Obama took power) largely looked at climate change from an economic competitiveness point of view; thus, the Bush administration insisted that India and China have to be included in order for the U.S. to commit itself." On the other hand, the European Union largely regarded climate change from an ethical point of view, thus considering it a duty for the U.S. and EU to reduce carbon emissions.

This essay, though in line with this approach, takes a slightly different angle in analyzing China's framing of climate change. It presents two perspectives adopted in the official policymaking processes: one was the negotiation of the Climate Change Convention and the Kyoto Protocol, roughly from 1989 to 2002, when climate change was defined as an environment issue;'9 the second was post-Kyoto period, from 2003 to the present, when climate change was conceptualized as an energy policy issue."0 Thus, the essay argues, in the last two decades (between 1989 and 2009) there has been a significant change in China's policy on climate change. One immediate question is: given that climate change is perhaps as closely linked with the environment as with energy, what is the difference? The difference, as will be explained in Section D of Part III of this essay, lies in policy implementation and internal dynamics in China's response to climate change that must be understood in the domestic context. This essay also attempts to shed light on a redesign of the global climate regime after Copenhagen.



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