TODAY’S STUDY: CHINA’S CLIMATE CHANGE CONCERNS
Climate Change, Migration, and Nontraditional Security Threats in China; Complex Crisis Scenarios and Policy Options for China and the World
Michael Werz and Lauren Reed May 2014 (Center for American Progress)
Introduction and Summary
A changing Pacific region
Climate change, migration, and sociopolitical conflicts associated with China’s epic economic transformation over the past 35 years are coming to a head in this second decade of the 21st century. These interlaced dynamics are causing internal upheaval and regional instability in and around China, which could complicate or undermine efforts by the United States and Europe to coax China into full adherence to the post-Cold War international system. The consequences of these complex domestic crises—crises that have the potential to spill over China’s borders —pose challenges for regional security, prosperity, and peace.
The Obama administration clearly understands what is at stake in the region. President Barack Obama, in a speech to the Australian Parliament in November 2011, described the United States as a Pacific nation, promising that his administration “will play a larger and long-term role in shaping this region and its future.”1
As former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton noted in her Foreign Policy article, “America’s Pacific Century,” the United States devoted a vast amount of resources to the Iraq and Afghanistan theaters in the last decade, but the time has come to invest in the Asia-Pacific theater, a region that forecasts show will dominant the economic, political, and security decisions in the 21st century.2
More recently, in a programmatic speech on the Pacific pivot, Vice President Joe Biden insisted that the United States and its Pacific allies, especially Latin American countries, embrace a similar geographic outlook on the Pacific in order to secure an important strategic achievement—an increasingly democratic and unified region that “connected economically, strategically, and through common values can make a great contribution to a more prosperous and secure Pacific.”3
Taking these new steps to strengthen Asian bilateral security alliances, engage with regional multilateral institutions, expand trade and investment, and advance democracy and human rights is due in large part to the underlying environmental, demographic, and nontraditional security problems that China is increasingly experiencing—all of them large factors in whether the Asia-Pacific region experiences regional stability and prosperity or encounters an economic slowdown, regional conflict, public dissent, and widespread humanitarian crises.
These are Chinese internal issues that are not easily influenced by the traditional diplomatic and development tools in the hands of policymakers outside of China. The country and its ruling Communist Party face serious problems that threaten its potential for sustained leadership—domestically, regionally, and internationally. The internal challenges of rapid urbanization, political corruption, labor scarcity, local governments’ soaring debt, housing inflation, massive pollution, and a graying population loom large in China’s path to sustained economic development and becoming a key regional stakeholder.
China and the United States—pivots of the Pacific Rim
The Pacific Rim is a primary center of global economic activity. The region exhibits incredible diversity—the economic depth of Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Singapore; the technological expertise of Japan, South Korea, and the United States; the natural resources of Australia, Colombia, Canada, Mexico, the Philippines, Russia, and the United States; the human resources of China and Indonesia; as well as the agricultural productivity of Australia, Chile, New Zealand, and others. A few data points illustrate the scope of this region’s prevalence: The 21 members of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum account for approximately 39 percent of the world’s population, approximately 55 percent of world’s gross domestic product, or GDP, and about 44 percent of world trade.4
The United States and China will increasingly serve as the key pivot points of the Pacific Rim, meaning the two nations will be both strategic partners and competitors, which in turn will require a stable bilateral relationship in order to be constructive. . Yet these ties have been strained in recent years as China assertively pushes territorial claims against its neighbors, including two U.S. treaty allies—the Philippines and Japan, but also South Korea and Taiwan—while complaining that the recent U.S. rebalance in the region seems to be the beginning of a de facto containment strategy against it. Exacerbating these conflicts are the climate change, migration, and ensuing internal conflicts within China that are the subject of this report. Considering these developments, the United States and its European partners will have to adapt defense and development policies to this new environment while coping with domestic budget cuts. Getting this right is crucial if the United States is to remain the primary Pacific power while Europe must get a handle on its continuing fiscal crisis, which threatens funding for international involvement and the formulation of forward-looking global engagement strategies.
China, of course, must also adapt to its new role as a pivotal power along the Pacific Rim—a role that increasingly means dealing with the challenges of climate change, migration, and conflict within its own borders and working with its neighbors constructively, not confrontationally. The main pages of this report examine those challenges and offer ways for the United States, Europe, and China’s neighbors to constructively influence China’s decisions.
Moreover, public outcry against polluting factories and power plants in their backyards alongside the stress from internal migratory movements and the fallout from land seizures for infrastructure development only exacerbate the many environmental, social, and economic challenges China faces. This nexus of climate change, migration, and insecurity could potentially undermine the political legitimacy of the ruling party, curb economic growth, and threaten the government’s ability to provide basic public services. The government’s capacity to offer reliable public goods such as electrical power provision, flood control, and drought relief are inextricably linked with the regime’s legitimacy, with major implications for domestic security.
The leaders in Beijing know the threats they face. There are top-level policies in place that attempt to address carbon emissions and energy inefficiencies, combat pollution and resource scarcity, rebalance migration and the rural-urban socioeconomic divide, and improve overall social welfare. However, the implementation of these policies are fragmented across free-standing, separate bureaucracies, without linkage to other climate security policies with which they interact. If the central government does not adopt climate security policies that are implemented at all levels of government—provincial and local as well—then the country’s economic and political future is at stake.
China’s regional influence and the Asia-Pacific region’s safety and prosperity are dependent on addressing the intersecting consequences of climate change, migration, and social instability in China. Already, pressures from migration-driven urban sprawl, pollution, and rising energy demand within China are leading some Chinese policymakers to champion a “going out” strategy to diversify the nation’s sources of energy, with ramifications in the South China Sea, East Sea, and beyond. And efforts to develop more hydroelectric energy and cope with rising water demand within China means that China’s neighbors in South and Southeast Asia may well see less and less water flowing from the Himalayan Mountains into their nations.
Both of these sets of possible conflict along China’s borders are real and growing. In this report, we examine in detail these climate change, migration, and insecurity trends at the national level within China and at different climate migration hotspots within the country, as well as their impact on domestic and regional policies. We then examine the implications for policymakers in the United States and China.
Briefly, however, our findings indicate that China’s leadership is making progress on its own terms in addressing individual aspects of the climate change and migration challenges it has encountered, yet the lack of a comprehensive strategy means the country simply cannot tackle the array of problems it now faces. This in turn means that we can expect serious crises in the five climate migration hotspots we identify in this report, leading to serious political and economic complications for China, its neighbors, and the world.
But the complex crisis scenarios we map out in this report also offer possible solutions that China’s leadership as well as policymakers in the United States, Europe, and around the Pacific Rim should consider. Crisis and conflict is not inevitable due to the foreseeable impact of climate change in China if policy collaboration can be promoted and then taken seriously. Bilateral and multilateral institutions and protocols focused on climate change are in place as starting points. We suggest further strengthening of these cooperative and collaborative ties in the final pages of this report—steps that will not be easy to negotiate either within China or between China and other nations but steps that simply must be taken to preserve the peace and prosperity enjoyed by Pacific Rim nations since the end of the Cold War…
Addressing the consequences of climate change, migration, and security in China and the Asia-Pacific region requires action on several fronts simultaneously going beyond the scope of traditional policymaking in China and elsewhere in the world. But there are steps to be taken that, when broken down into smaller, more workable solutions yet linked to an overarching strategy, hold out the promise of success. In this section of the report, we break out those workable solutions while being realistic about what can be achieved—beginning with international climate negotiations.
Prospects for international climate change negotiations
China seeks to actively participate in U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, or UNFCCC, negotiations under the premise of its role as a developing country with low historical greenhouse gas emissions and low capacity to implement t mitigation or adaptation technologies. Chinese scholars tend to focus on historical emissions, and frequently cite that data from 1850 to 2006, when U.S. emissions comprised a total 29 percent of the world’s historical emissions, while China’s only amount to 9 percent over the same period.251 Predictably, its position did not change for the subsequent UNFCCC meetings at the Doha conference in 2012 or the Warsaw conference in November 2013. China, of course, has domestic reasons to fulfill its international “contributions” to greenhouse gas reductions s—namely energy security, economic and social development, technological competitiveness, and anti-pollution campaigns—but there is no incentive for China to comply with a more stringent agreement.
China’s participation in climate change negotiations also is determined by its foreign policy motivations. It seeks to ensure a level playing field between industrialized and emerging societies, unite developing countries behind common policy positions, and improve its image as a responsible global leader. China’s obligations under the UNFCCC track these foreign policy considerations:
• In 1992, China approved the UNFCCC.
• In 2004, based on the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol obligations, China submitted its first international communications on climate change. It advocated the “common but differentiated responsibilities” principle created by the developing country bloc. This principle states that while all countries have a responsibility to mitigate climate change, some have more responsibility than others. The degree of responsibility is based on both capacity to mitigate climate change and historical emissions. China argues that developed countries should set reduction targets for the Kyoto Protocol second commitment period, transfer $30 billion of funds to developing countries, and engage in technology transfers.252
• In the second round of Kyoto obligations to be implemented post-2012, China advocates for developed countries to reduce emissions by 40 percent of 1990 levels, and for those developed countries that have not ratified the Kyoto Protocol to do so.253 China advocates for developing nations to make “contributions” to reduction targets and to implement Kyoto obligations to the best of their ability without making formal commitments.
• Following the Doha conference in 2012, China maintained that developed countries should follow through with obligations for funding of clean energy technologies and environmental capacity building to developing countries, and arrange for appropriate implementation methods.254
• At the Warsaw conference in November 2013, Chinese negotiators led the developing country bloc in the fight to establish the so-called “loss-and-damage” mechanism that was agreed to in principle at the 2011 Doha conference. Loss and damage is largely a financing issue to put in place “institutional arrangements” where developed countries provide funding to developing countries to cope with extreme weather events. The G-77, a U.N. party group that represents more than 130 developing nations including China—view loss and damage as a separate issue altogether from adaptation and mitigation.255 The United States and other developed countries consider loss and damage a part of adaptation. A compromise put the loss and damage mechanism under an adaptation framework to be reviewed in 2016.
• China and India also pushed back hard on the key requirement of the United States and other developed countries for all member nations to establish a national target for greenhouse gas emissions by the first quarter of 2015.257 The eventual compromise between the two factions was for developing nations to make flexible “contributions” instead of firm “commitments” to national targets.258 This lowers the requirements for compliance and threatens to reduce already minimal gains to climate change mitigation.
Given that China has not deviated at all from its national climate policies with the Warsaw Accord, there is little debate about whether it can fulfill its minimal requirements. Because China’s goals are domestically driven, it is not likely to change its position on international negotiations in the near to medium term, unless it can find new ways to cooperate with the United States.
Implications for the United States
Most Chinese policy experts precede any discussion of U.S.-China comparative climate change policy by acknowledging the U.S. withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol in 2001.259 But China’s leaders also realize that there are benefits from maintaining a strong relationship on climate and energy issues because U.S. renewable technology firms, energy policies, and legal frameworks are much more developed than their counterparts in China. China has much to learn in the areas of clean coal, energy markets, fracking, and deepwater drilling technologies.260
There are also other potential areas for cooperation between the two largest greenhouse gas emitters that both countries have yet to acknowledge. First, both countries should raise climate, environmental, and migration policies to the level of strategic and security issues in order for them to gain the status and attention necessary to implement policy changes. Second, current U.S.-China climate, energy, environmental, and strategic cooperation mechanisms should be strengthened. Third, new areas of collaboration should be developed under a new climate security umbrella, including:
• Collaborative humanitarian assistance and disaster relief to address climate change-induced extreme weather and natural disasters. Military strategic cooperation surrounding humanitarian assistance would build trust between the two militaries and reduce the potential for misunderstandings and accidents. It is no longer an option to work separately on regional crises, such as in the Myanmar crisis in 2013 and Pakistan humanitarian efforts following the devastating floods in 2010. Since 1998, China and the United States have had a platform for maritime security cooperation, and both countries’ efforts would be more effective if this platform was actively utilized.261
• Cross-Pacific partnerships between nongovernmental organizations and scientific c educational organizations to promote dialogue and track two collaborations on climate security issues. U.S. and Chinese nongovernmental organizations should work together to educate people on climate change and help pressure local governments to take action.
Implications for the European Union
The EU currently offers technical assistance to improve China’s carbon capture and storage technologies and near-zero emissions coal technologies. But more can be done to promote climate security issues in the Asia-Pacific.262 Climate and energy security could form the cornerstone of China-EU cooperation moving forward, but current competition in the renewable energy market and so-called “embedded carbon issues”—meaning the amount of carbon emissions contained in products exported from China—are creating roadblocks in the relationship.
Chinese critics note that the EU’s strict emissions policies contradict its trade strategy that involves importing goods from carbon-intensive economies. China’s adaptation and mitigation policies as well as global climate change have many implications for this relationship. Chinese economists calculate that from 1995 to 2010, embedded carbon in China’s net exports to the EU amounted to 3 percent to 8 percent of China’s total emissions.263 Critics call on the EU to take responsibility for this part of China’s emissions by giving China funding and technical assistance in the form of technology transfers for clean technologies.
What’s more, China is increasingly seen as a competitor for the EU in the renewable energy market, given that China’s installed wind power in 2009 was second only to that of the United States, and China’s photovoltaic cell production has led the world since 2007.264 In response to what is viewed as a clear case of dumping, the EU and the United States have both filed anti-dumping cases against China with the World Trade Organization.265 Anti-dumping cases can continue for years, and can cause major riffs in bilateral relations.
In light of this, both parties should commence consultations and negotiations on the contentious issues relating to emissions policies, embedded carbon, green energy development, and photovoltaic cell production. More can be done in the European Union to promote climate security issues in Asia, but beginning with current areas of contention will pave the way for more collaboration later.
The need for a new U.S. climate change agenda for the Pacific
A few developments may be signaling a new era in international climate governance and U.S.-China collaboration. One is the U.S.-China agreement on hydroflourocarbon emissions restrictions that came out of President Xi and President Obama’s June 2013 bilateral meeting in California.266 President Obama’s new climate policy also signals more U.S. commitment to cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Perhaps the most important development is the U.S.-China Climate Change Working Group’s advancement of cooperation on these issues in the two nation’s annual Strategic and Economic Dialogues. Established in April 2013, this working group made groundbreaking headway at the July 2013 meeting by highlighting five “action initiatives”: vehicle emissions, smart grids, carbon n capture and storage, utilization and storage, greenhouse gas data collection and management as well as building and industry energy efficiency.267 Indeed, the World Resources Institute points out several themes that run through the July 2013 bilateral report: enjoying greater benefits by working jointly, implementing domestic action in concert, and beginning a new phase in the bilateral climate change relationship.268
Continuing this momentum, in November 2013, U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice underlined the need for the United States and China to lead the efforts against climate change and spur a global transition to a low-carbon energy future.269 She highlighted plans underway, such as partnering with Asian allies to bring new green technologies to market, protecting natural resources and endangered species, and helping communities adapt to the consequences of climate change. Still, more tangible progress must be made in forums such as the UNFCCC negotiations, the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue, and other multilateral and bilateral forums to address climate change and the unique intersection of climate, migration, and security issues. Vast improvements can be made if the United States implements the following recommendations:
• Engage in more trust-building, such as working with China, India, and other developing country leaders to conduct joint humanitarian assistance and disaster relief in response to extreme weather and natural disasters, especially in Africa.
• Strategically implement mitigation and adaptation projects as well as technical capacity building in developing countries.
• Conduct collaborative research projects and information sharing with China, India, Bangladesh, and other Asia-Pacific countries vulnerable to climate change.
• Integrate climate change, migration, and humanitarian issues into traditional security bureaucracies.
The need for a new China climate change agenda
Climate change, migration, and social stability present enormous hurdles for China at its current stage of economic development as it emerges as a global leader. Without addressing the climate security risks posed by greenhouse gas emissions, migration hotspots, and social stability, China’s emergence as a stable world partner and the legitimacy of the Chinese Community Party will be challenged. China’s leadership has made some headway in the disparate policy realms of climate change, rural-to-urban migration, urbanization, human security, and resource scarcity, but no overarching policy exists to link them together to mitigate complex crisis scenarios.
With much uncertainty as to the long-term impacts of climate change and migration on social and economic stability, China would do well to adopt a national climate security strategy. If such a policy were proposed and implemented, it would need top leadership support, incentives for industry compliance, credible enforcement by national and local bureaucracies, and better monitoring, measurement, and synthesis of data. While China has shown its capacity to make progress on certain resource, environmental, and security issues, much more interagency coordination, targeted resources, and mechanisms for policy implementation must be in place.
The way forward
Yet it is clear after the meager outcomes achieved at the UNFCCC 2013 Warsaw conference that if the United States does not take the first step, China will not. The United States must lead by example and adopt its own national climate security strategy that integrates climate change mitigation and adaptation, migration and human security, disaster relief and maritime coordination, food security, and renewable and new energy technologies. It must also drive international l forums to influence other nations, most urgently China, to do the same, and work to build the capacity among developing countries to address their specific climate security challenges.
China’s assertive positioning regionally makes it all the more critical that the United States continue its diplomatic and security arrangements in the Asia-Pacific region, with an eye toward potential climate security contingencies that would affect the stability and safety of regional economies, global trade, and financial markets. While China has a large role to play in ensuring regional climate security in the Pacific Century, the United States remains the only Pacific and global leader whose actions will persuade others to do the same.