Reconciling International Fairness and Protection of the Atmospheric Commons

Date:           18-19 June 2009
Location:    Lingnan University, Hong Kong, China

The Centre for Asian Pacific Studies (CAPS) and the Environmental Studies Programme (ESP) at Lingnan University, Hong Kong, are jointly organizing a conference on "China and Global Climate Change." The conference will address the problem of how to reconcile China's growing greenhouse gas emissions with the Chinese government's unwillingness to join binding international commitments to reduce those emissions.

Since the start of international negotiations on climate change in the 1980s, the Chinese government has refused to be bound by commitments to limit its pollution of the atmosphere. This refusal is based on the historical responsibility of the world's wealthy countries for past emissions and China's status as a developing country. President Hu Jintao recently reaffirmed that China will not commit to mandatory emissions-reduction targets before the world's wealthy countries take the lead in addressing global climate change. He has also called on affluent countries to pay for emissions limitations in China and other developing countries.

Alongside these Chinese concerns about justice and historical responsibility is the new reality that China has become the largest national source of pollution causing climate change. Without China's involvement, notably limitations in its future greenhouse gas emissions, international efforts to mitigate global warming substantially are unlikely to succeed. This comes against the backdrop of increasing concerns among atmospheric scientists that global warming is happening more quickly than predicted, that climate change will be more severe than anticipated, and that the poorest countries and people of the world will experience monumental suffering in coming decades as a consequence.

This conference seeks to assess how China's longstanding concerns about international fairness and justice can be squared against the pressing need for an effective international regime that limits greenhouse gas emissions – including those from China.


Major conference themes include (1) Practical Considerations, including the latest findings on greenhouse gas emissions and climate change impacts related to China's role; (2) Ethical Considerations, including questions of fairness, justice and human rights related to climate change and China's role; and (3) Political Considerations, including issues related to the domestic and international politics of climate change, the international climate change negotiations, and the political significance in other countries of China's climate change diplomacy and policies.

We aim to address these and others questions related to China and global climate change:

  • Is there any common ground between China's concern with development and international justice, on one hand, and growing greenhouse gas emissions and the worsening problem of climate change, on the other?
  • What must the developed countries do to persuade the Chinese government to commit to greenhouse gas limitations, and eventually reductions, in the future? How can they facilitate those limitations?
  • Does China's newfound wealth undermine the argument that it should not be required to limit its greenhouse gas emissions? What ethical arguments bolster or bring into question China's reluctance to restrain emissions?
  • How do the adverse impacts of climate change for China's poorest people, and indeed for poor people throughout the developing world, affect China's obligations? Does China have obligations to poorer countries just as wealthier countries have obligations to China?
  • How significant is it, practically, ethically and politically, that China is going down the same fossil-fuel development path as the West just as scientists are warning of the severe consequences of doing so? Does it matter that China's economic emergence has occurred against the backdrop of improving climate science, whereas the West was historically unaware that its development path was unsustainable?
  • Should China's new wealthy classes be allowed to hide behind China's developing-country status to avoid lifestyle changes increasingly demanded of most people, including poor ones, in the world's developed countries?
  • How is the failure of Western governments to implement major cuts in greenhouse gases a political issue in China? Do China's positions on climate change make it more difficult for developed-country governments to persuade their constituents to accept the major cuts in greenhouse gas emissions that will be required to address climate change?
  • Are workable and affordable technical solutions available to allow China to take a different development path so that its people can enjoy the fruits of modernity without causing monumental harm to the global environment? How can the West encourage and support those solutions?
  • Given that China and the United States are the largest national sources of greenhouse gas pollution, albeit with very different capabilities and historical responsibilities, how might they work together to protect the atmospheric commons?


Copyright© 2024Lingnan University. All rights reserved.

Disclaimer: Lingnan University ("the University") has taken all reasonable measures to ensure that material contained in this website is correct. The University reserves the right to make changes at any time. If you have any queries with our information, or if you would like a hyperlink to your site removed, please notify the Webmaster of the University at