China’s Fight Against Climate Change and Environmental Degradation

China’s carbon emissions threaten global efforts to fight climate change. Its broader environmental degradation endangers economic growth, public health, and government legitimacy. Are Beijing’s policies enough?

Workers try to clear algae from a polluted lake in Anhui Province. TPG/Getty Images


Lindsay Maizland


May 19, 2021 2:20 pm (EST)

  • China is the world’s top emitter, producing more than a quarter of the world’s annual greenhouse gas emissions, which contribute to climate change.
  • It pledged to cut emissions under the Paris Agreement, reduce coal use, and invest in renewable energy. But its Belt and Road Initiative still finances coal-fired power plants abroad. 
  • Air pollution, water scarcity, and soil contamination remain threats to the health and livelihoods of China’s people, increasing dissatisfaction with the government.
  • China’s environmental crisis, the result of decades of rapid industrialization, not only threatens the health and livelihoods of the country’s 1.4 billion people but also the global fight against climate change. As the world’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in recent years, China suffers from notoriously bad air pollution. Its carbon-intensive industries have caused additional environmental challenges, including water scarcity and soil contamination. And, like the rest of the world, China will face increasingly harsh consequences of climate change in the coming decades, including flooding and droughts. 
  • In response, Beijing has implemented policies to curb emissions and stem further degradation, such as by signing the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate and pledging to be carbon neutral by 2060. However, following through won’t be easy, experts say, as the government struggles to maintain economic growth; ease public discontent; and overcome tensions with the United States, the second-largest emitter.
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