Rethinking China’s Low-Carbon Strategy

January 22, 2015

Le-Yin Zhang notes that, in recent years, many countries have begun to pursue low-carbon development strategies. And for its part, the Chinese government has taken various steps to promote it, including by integrating the concept into the national development policy framework and by initiating various pilot schemes. But, she argues, the overall impact of these various Chinese government initiatives is still limited. And this, she says, can be seen in China’s continuously rising emission levels, the paucity of homegrown low-carbon technologies, and the negative image that China continues to have internationally on environmental issues.

Zhang argues that, for China to improve its low-carbon development efforts, it needs to rethink its underlying strategy, or rather the lack of one.

Central elements of her proposed approach include less reliance on administrative means and greater reliance on market incentives; more openness; more attention to innovation; and an enhanced role for actors beyond the Chinese state. She also proposes a re-think of the low-carbon-related dimensions of China’s national urbanization strategy. Ultimately, Zhang argues that gaps exist between what China has managed to achieve under the present system and what the world expects China to achieve, not to mention what China must achieve in order to rise to its self-imposed goal of achieving technological leapfrogging. Her paper offers a comprehensive look at this issue in the Chinese context.

About the Author

Le-Yin Zhang

Senior Lecturer in the Bartlett Development Planning Unit at University College London


Le-Yin Zhang is Senior Lecturer in the Bartlett Development Planning Unit at University College London (UCL). Before joining UCL in 1997, she worked at the Zhejiang Institute of Education in China, Constance University in Germany, and the University of Greenwich in the United Kingdom. She has served as a consultant for a variety of international organizations and national and local governments. Zhang is a development economist specializing in economic development and the management of cities. Her publications range from a focus on inward foreign direct investment, industrialization and clustering, to Chinese economic reform, the centrallocal fiscal relationship, and economic development in Shanghai, to the relationships between climate change, industrialization, the green economy, and city development strategies. Zhang has teaching, research and consultancy experiences in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Germany, Egypt, Iran, Ghana, Uganda, Ethiopia and the UK. She received her BSc in Geography from Beijing Normal University and a PhD in Planning Studies from the University of London.