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Worldview Watch

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 previous issue                                               issue #46  posted 10 / 07 / 2015                                           archive of all  issues

 China: Global Climate and Development Leader?  

in the news: On September 21, 2015 China issued its "Integrated Reform Plan For Promoting Ecological Progress." A few days later, during a meeting with USA president Obama, China president Xi Jinping committed his country to giving poor countries $3 billion to help them cope with the effects of global climate change. And, culminating with a September 28, address to the United Nations (UN) General Assembly, during his USA visit he pledged over $6 billion to UN climate and development programs. As reported by The Economist in an article entitled "China and the United Nations: Xi and the Blue Helmets"" in its October 3 print edition, Chinese policy has shifted from ignoring the UN to "using the international system to bolster its claim to global leadership"particularly in the areas of "peace keeping, climate negotiations, and development." 

That article was followed by one entitled "Markets and the Environment: Domesday Scenario" which noted the revolutionary nature of one aspect of the Chinese "Integrated Reform Plan..." Going beyond its pledge to follow the USA state of California, Europe and others in setting up a carbon emissions trading market,  China plans to establish usage rights markets for both energy and water. As The Economist author puts it, "This is much more radical. The idea is rooted in communist dogma, which says all natural resources—land, rivers, minerals and so on—are collectively owned. The reform plan begins by calling for a massive Domesday-like inventory of who owns what, whether central government, provincial governments or lower tiers. It then says, with utter insouciance, that “with the exception of natural resources which are ecologically important [eg, national parks], the ownership rights and use rights for all other natural resources can be separated”. And, having separated them, the usage rights can be bought and sold, rented out, used as collateral or as the basis of loan guarantees, and so on."  

commentary and analysis (by Stephen P. Cook, project Worldview, Given its stunning economic success since it began embracing western style capitalist market system economics thirty-five years ago, we might overlook China's socialist / communist philosophical foundation. The previous issue of this Worldview Watch blogspurred by the question "Was Confucious a communist?" explored how that foundation relates to modern authoritarianism vs. democracy debates as nations seek to findor at least fine tune—the best form of government.  This current issue explores how that foundation relates to global environmental and development concerns. 

Of course we associate China with worldview theme #49B: Socialism. One might argue that in China, to some extent, "production and distribution are designed to directly satisfy economic demands and human needs with the common good, rather than private profit and accumulation of wealth, in mind." [see Note 1) below].  This hardly makes it special: European social welfare states do this to some extent. Butunlike those European statesprior to the 1990s having "all property held in common for the public welfare" China, most would argue, was a communist state. By 2015, after its steadily easing restrictions on allowing individuals to own land and hold private propertyfew would continue to do so. 

But now, perhaps bucking the trend in China toward western style unrestrained individual ownership rights [see Note 2) below] , comes China's announced intent to separate "ownership rights and use rights".  Will it work for the common good as it a) seemingly restricts resource  ownership rights to "central government, provincial governments, or lower tiers"?  and b) regulates usage rights by "granting pollution rights to administrative regions and on the basis of the best industry-wide levels of pollution emissions, [after which] the mechanism will be gradually strengthened to ensure the cap system for enterprise pollution emissions is implemented and the trading of pollution rights creates incentives for emissions reductions at the level of the individual enterprise"? [see Note 3) below] Like Singapore's and China's experience with authoritarian government (recall our last blog issue), developing countries and others will watch with interest as China wrestles with resource ownership vs. usage rights  in implementing its announced plans. 

Similarly how proposed Chinese ventures into establishing carbon trading and resource usage rights markets actually work out will be closely monitored by those interested in using Environmental Economics (worldview theme #40) to promote Sustainability (worldview theme #23A). Likewise many will be watching to see whether China's actions (especially in Africarecall Worldview Watch issue #8) are those of a champion of the world's poor as it likes to portray itself, or of a self-interested economic superpower?  In worldview theme terms, will its efforts to supposedly promote third world economic development be more Ethical Globalization (worldview theme #51) or more Imperialism (worldview theme #22B)?  Many are withholding judgment on the seemingly good Chinese intentions behind their announced global climate and development plans and are instead adopting a "let's wait and see" orientation.  


1) Cynics (worldview theme #36A) would point to the high level of inequality in Chinese society and challenge this!  

2) Of course, while the biggest players in the world's biggest economies are corporations rather than lone individuals, in the West those economic entities are huge multinational corporations while in China they are often huge state-owned enterprises. 

3) This latter language is from China's "Integrated Reform Plan..." announced on September 21, 2015 

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