It's easy to see the economic growth of China as evidence that it should be responsible for fixing its own emissions. However, that growth is fueled by exports to Western nations so don't they have a part to play in reducing their scope 3 carbon emissions?

China's carbon emissions: a global dilemma

According to a 2011 poll by the Economist, 64% of people in Western nations think that China should be achieving its growth and industrialisation in a cleaner way than its Western counterparts.  However, its not domestic demand that's fuelling the growth.  China is the largest exporting nation on the planet.  2008 estimates attributed 33% of China's emissions to goods it manufactured for export.  The issue comes down to who should carry the cost of decarbonising Chinese industry: should China, with its economy still growing despite global recesssion, take responsibility for its own future; or should the developed economies who have outsourced their own manufacturing - and associated emissions - play a part in reducing them?

Some of those who advocate leaving China to solve the problem itself, point to its own economic growth and rapidly growing urban middle class.  However, 13% of China's population (130 million people) fall below the poverty line and standards of living in rural areas - 40% of the population still work in agriculture - are particularly low.  The GDP per capita in China's Western provinces in just over $5,000, equivalent to that of Guatemala.  Raising the standard of living for China's rural population will require investment in electrification, signalling the potential for further emissions growth.  Since 2000, China's energy demand has doubled, but on a per capita basis the nation's demand for energy is still only about a third of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) average.  The potential for more demand is very high.  

Carbon finance is crucial to spurring investment in renewables in China.  And in the country's lesser developed Western provinces, these investments have also played an important development role.  Cameron Hepburn at project developers Climate Bridge explains: "there is a double dividend from projects in rural areas.  As well as emission reductions there are significant benefits in transport, healthcare, employment and increased income for communities.  Poverty in rural China is also closely correlated with low levels of education.  The simple opportunity to turn on a light bulb can be life changing: it can mean a child can do schoolwork in the evening, for example."

The West's support for China's low-energy development has benefits for both parties.  It plays to the competitive instincts of Western and Chinese corporations seeking to optimise the intellectual property and innovation strengths of the West, and the manufacturing capability and ingenuity of the Chinese.  It's a combination that has the potential to deliver a step change in global emission reductions, as emissions from anywhere in the world affect climate globally - meaning the benefits of the West helping China to decarbonise are greater than the sum of its parts.

Read the full paper. 

See how a Biomass Renewable Energy project in Eastern China provides additional income to local farmers.