What are the environmental consequences of China's rise as a global player?

1 December 2010

China is not only one of the world's most powerful economies, it has also become one of the world's largest polluters. At the same time, China is a forerunner of innovation in low carbon technology and will be a key player in climate change negotiations over the next two weeks.

Last week, IDS hosted the third and final ESRC-funded workshop on "China as the new 'shaper' in global development", which focused on the environmental aspects of China's rise as a global player. These aspects are often overlooked in favour of aid, trade and investments. The workshop addressed China's engagement with low income countries in the areas of natural resource use, energy, climate change, forestry, agriculture and environmental policy-making.

The implications of China's rise on natural resource systems

Bram Buscher, from the International Institute of Social Studies presented on the implications of China's rise in global natural resource systems, highlighting how Tete in Mozambique is becoming the "new regional hub for industry" with Chinese companies exploiting hydropower and coal resources as well as wood and iron ores.

The theme of Chinese companies exploiting hydropower was picked by Peter Bosshard from International Rivers. Currently, Chinese dam builders operate 266 overseas projects in 65 countries as developers, contractors and financiers, and Bosshard gave, as an example, details of motives, policies and practices behind the Merowe Dam construction in Sudan. He argued that, while the Chinese government wants Chinese firms operating overseas to adopt Corporate Social Responsibility policies, the implementation of these policies is often beyond government control, even where state-owned firms are concerned so that enforceability can depend on local regulatory regimes in host countries.

China and climate change

Given the unfolding climate negotiations in Cancún over the course of this week and the next, speakers also addressed the issue of climate change.

Michele Stua from SPRU at the University of Sussex, Bram Buijs from the Clingendael Institute and Andreas Oberheitmann from Tsinghua University looked at:

  • the Clean Development Mechanism and possibilities for Africa to learn from China 
  • China's role in the climate negotiations and its influence on the G77
  • China's options for a post-Kyoto regime and the possibility of introducing per capita emission rights

Jeffrey Henderson from Centre for East Asian Studies concluded the two-day workshop, outlined the changing nature of globalisation and suggesting that we are faced with a global Asian era and China's rise could lead to an international 'transformation' rather than international 'development'.


The Rising Powers China workshop series were organised by Frauke Urban, IDS, Giles Mohan, Open University and Yanbing Zhang, Tsinghua University and funded by the Economics and Social Research Council (ESRC Ref: RES-075-25-0019). IDS research fellow Frauke Urban currently leads this Rising Powers China network.

The series has contributed to a better understanding of China's rise as a global development actor and has addressed the implications for low income countries, with a strong focus on Africa, as well as the implications for the international development community. In addition, the workshops enabled the development and testing of new analytical approaches for analysing China's impact in low income countries and have set a new research agenda for further research. Finally, the workshops have promoted a dialogue between experts and practitioners from various world regions and disciplines.

Image credit: JB Rusell / Panos