Handling the horizon threat of climate change has been on the international community’s agenda for quite some time now. Western powers have taken the lead in pursuing ‘green’ policies to combat climate change. Most of the backlash on the topic of climate change is aimed towards developing countries, particularly China. In the final days of the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference in 2009, negotiations between the U.S. and China eventually collapsed. Observers looked at the climate summit as disheartening and unproductive.
During this time, China’s coal consumption had been increasing for decades as their government pushed for industrialization. Four years after the Copenhagen conference, China went so far as to add 500 new 600-megawatt coal plants, accounting for more than 40% of global coal consumption in 2009. On January 17, 2010, popular Chinese television host Larry Hsien Ping Lang devoted an entire episode of his current affairs talk show, Larry’s Eyes on Finance, to global warming. Lang went on to tell millions of viewers that the goal of Europe and the United States at the Copenhagen negotiations was to prevent China from being a global leader by forcing developing countries to lower carbon emissions and halt industrialization processes. Lang’s provocative statements led to more than half a dozen books on the West’s climate conspiracy to be published, as well as many social media posts. Looking from the outside in to China’s push for industrialization it was clear they had no interest in any sort of environmental considerations.
China’s sudden embrace of climate science came in 2012 when Beijing’s Renmin University of China, with assistance from Yale University, conducted a national climate survey that resulted in contradictory findings. The survey suggested that 93% of Chinese people believe climate change is happening, and the majority of respondents believe it “will harm themselves and their own family.” A similar survey in the U.S. found that only 70% believe in climate change, and a far smaller portion says it will affect them. At the same time, 55% of Chinese people think humans are the primary cause of global warming, a percentage comparable to the percentage of US citizens who think similarly.
These statistics revealed an unknown truth in China – a large majority of the public disagrees with climate skeptics. The survey brought light to climate change, driving skepticism from China’s mainstream. By China’s 12th Five-Year Plan in 2011, a green strategy had begun, proposing to turn low-carbon industries into a major driver of the economy. China, who was once dependent on coal to drive industrialization, has committed $761 billion by 2020 to transition off fossil fuels. In an effort to increase public awareness concerning climate change, China’s new climate policies are accompanied by extensive state outreach and education for the 45% of the population who were unsure if humans are to blame for climate change.
Avery Dorsey is a third year senior at American University in Washington D.C., and is studying for a degree in International Relations with a minor in Chinese.