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Title: Climate change politics with Chinese characteristics : from discourse to institutionalised greenhouse gas mitigation
Author: Ellermann, Christian
ISNI:       0000 0004 2746 8906
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2013
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China has seen tremendous economic growth in the past three decades, and in the order of eight to ten per cent since 2000. This development has come with ever increasing energy consumption, and thus emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG). This trend has been an important topic in the international climate negotiations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change; China is under constant pressure from other large economies to contribute to reversing the GHG emissions trend in order to avoid dangerous climate change. At the same time, the Chinese government has pursued an environmental and energy security agenda focussed at increasing the energy efficiency of its economy and the supply of energy from renewable sources. Alongside, a domestic climate change discourse has developed, and changed over time. This thesis examines elements of the country-specific political ecology in the area of greenhouse gas mitigation in China, looking closely at what climate change means in China, and discussing how this influences the development and institutionalisation of mitigation mechanisms. I take a political ecology approach to scrutinize the nature and evolution of a climate change discourse in China, and the influences and implications of existing governance structures and institutions that affect greenhouse gas mitigation in the country. Adopting mixed empirical methods comprising semi-structured interviewing, media and numerical data analyses, and participant observation in research processes close to the government, data was collected between 2008 and 2011. In five academic papers with distinctive angles, I show the importance of engaging deeply with the formative, distinctly Chinese political, economic and ecological environment when discussing mitigation in China. The Chinese climate change discourse has changed significantly in recent years, for example resulting in different discursively acceptable ways for the country to engage in mitigation. These meanings of climate change in China have developed through specific interactions of the political and academic spheres, based on Chinese understandings of nature and history (and China’s place in it), as well as with limited involvement of the media compared to western developed country cases. The notion of historical responsibility is a major component of what climate change means in China; in this thesis I therefore illuminate the numerical and conceptual ramifications of this part of the discourse, noting that the re-active nature of this frame, with China positioned against the developed countries, has not lend itself to support new mitigation action. Low carbon economy is another newer and now very important element of the discourse, a frame that locates China in an active, entrepreneurial subject position. My study on two cases – mitigation in the Beijing transportation sector and the introduction of seven local emission trading systems through a approach of governance through pilots – shows how this part of the discourse allows for the development of new mitigation approaches when they follow established institutions and governance mechanisms in a path-dependent manner. This thesis contributes to the research of global environmental change by advancing theoretical and practical ways of engaging with climate change in general, and mitigation in particular in China. It stresses the importance of considering the country-specific political ecology when formulating global climate change policy.
Supervisor: Liverman, Diana Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Asia ; Climate systems and policy ; Environmental change ; Chinese ; China ; climate change ; political ecology ; discourse ; mitigation