The Paris Climate Change Conference was successfully concluded with the Paris Agreement, which is a milestone for the world in collectively combating climate change. By participating in IPCC assessments and conducting national climate change assessments, China has been increasing its understanding of the issue. For the first time, Chinas top leader attended the Conference of the Parties, which indicates the acknowledgement of the rationality and necessity of climate change response by China at different levels. Moreover, this participation reflects Chinas commitment to including climate change in its ecology improvement program and pursuing a low-carbon society and economy. In order to ensure the success of the Paris Conference, China has contributed significantly. Chinas constructive participation in global governance shows that China is a responsible power. These principles such as the creation of a future of win–win cooperation with each country contributing to the best of its ability; a future of the rule of law, fairness, and justice; and a future of inclusiveness, mutual learning, and common development will serve as Chinas guidelines in its efforts to facilitate the implementation of the Paris Agreement and participate in the design of international systems.


Paris Climate Change Conference ; Paris agreement ; Rationality of climate change ; Low-carbon development ; International systems

1. Introduction

The Paris Agreement that was adopted on 13 December, 2015, at the Paris Climate Change Conference after 14 days of hard negotiations created a global mechanism for addressing climate change by 2020 and beyond, thus marking the next stage in international cooperation in climate change response. On 22 April, 2016, the high-level signing ceremony of the agreement was held at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. On this occasion, the leaders of 175 countries, the largest number of countries to sign an international treaty on the first day it was open for signature, signed the agreement. This reflects the consensus of the international community on the science and necessity of climate change response and on low-carbon, climate-resilient, and sustainable development. According to the agreement, the international community will cooperate in limiting the increase in global average temperature to well below 2 °C, which is above pre-industrial levels, and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels; increasing the ability to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change and foster climate resilience and low greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions development in a manner that does not threaten food production; and ensuring consistent finance flows with a pathway toward low GHG emissions and climate-resilient development (UNFCCC, 2015 ).

In his speech titled “Work Together to Build a Win–Win, Equitable and Balanced Governance Mechanism on Climate Change” at the opening ceremony of the Paris Climate Change Conference, the Chinese President Xi Jinping reaffirmed that in its Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC), China pledges to peak CO2 emissions by 2030 and strive to achieve it as soon as possible, reduce the emission of CO2 per unit of GDP by 60%–65% from the 2005 level by 2030, increase the share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption to approximately 20%, and increase forest stock by approximately 4.5 billion m3 against the 2005 level. This was the first time a Chinas top leader attended the Conference of the Parties, which is of landmark significance.

2. Full recognition by China of the science and urgency of climate change

The science of climate change is the basis for addressing climate change. The Paris Agreement highlights “recognizing the need for an effective and progressive response to the urgent threat of climate change on the basis of the best available scientific knowledge” (UNFCCC, 2015 ). The five published assessment reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) clearly state that climate change induced by anthropogenic GHG emissions has posed and will continue to pose a threat to human society and natural ecosystem, and effective adaptation and mitigation measures are needed. Because the climate system is extremely complicated and inherently chaotic, scientific uncertainty inevitably exists in observation, impact assessment, and projection of climate change (Yao et al., 2011 , Sun et al., 2012  and Fu, 2007 ). In order to address climate change, renovation is needed in key sectors such as energy, industry, transport, construction, and agriculture, which translates into huge social and economic costs that put great pressure on China in the context of its current energy mix and development stage. In addition, some arguments deny the impact of human activities on climate change (Singer and Avery, 2007 ) and even consider it be a product of political intrigues. The acknowledgement of the science behind climate change and the necessity of climate change response has gradually deepened. Chinas high-level participation in the Paris Conference has shown that the Chinese government has widely recognized that the lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing action.

2.1. Positive significance of IPCC scientific assessment activities

Since the inception of the IPCC, China has participated in its assessment preparation. Over 100 Chinese scientists, recommended by the Chinese government, have become the lead authors of IPCC assessment reports (9, 11, 19, 28, and 43 Chinese authors were involved in the preparation of 1st to 5th assessment reports, respectively). Particularly, Dr. Ding Yihui was the TAR WGI co-chair, and Dr. Qin Dahe was AR4 and AR5 WGI co-chair. The participation of these scientists in international scientific assessment of climate change has significantly heightened the attention of Chinese scientific community on cutting-edge scientific issues related to climate change and its research. Since 2007, China has implemented Chinas Science and Technology Actions on Climate Change, the 12th Five-Year Special Plan for Major National Global Change Research Programs, and National Scientific and Technological Actions on Climate Change During the 12th Five-Year Plan period, while the Chinese Academy of Sciences has launched a special project Research in Key Issues of International Negotiation with Regard to Coping with Climate Change (Ding et al., 2009 ), thus encouraging scientists to conduct research and discuss about climate change in terms of uncertainty and selection of response measures from different perspectives to enhance the understanding of and response to climate change.

The Chinese government widely mobilized scientists to engage in governmental and expert reviews of IPCC reports. In the IPCC AR5 cycle alone, it organized over 2400 people from 18 ministries and departments to review the contributions of the three Working Groups to AR5 reports, synthesis report, special reports, and methodological guidance documents. Approximately 80% of over 900 comments proposed by the Chinese government were adopted by the IPCC. The review activities enabled more Chinese scientists to view the climate change issue in a more scientific manner.

The engagement of the Chinese government in the IPCC assessment process promoted the spread of IPCC assessment conclusions in China. As each contribution to AR5 was published, the interpretation and analysis of its conclusions were immediately presented to the members of China National Leading Group on Climate Change chaired by the Premier. Under the guidance of the government, the Chinese authors of IPCC reports participated in up to 100 outreach events for decision makers, institutes, and universities, which significantly promoted the understanding of climate change and its response at all levels of Chinese society.

2.2. Promotion of Chinas national assessment report on climate change

In 2002, the Chinese government initiated the preparation of the National Assessment Report on Climate Change, the outputs of which were released in 2006, 2011, and 2015. The preparation strictly followed the IPCC review procedures with top Chinese scientists on climate change systematically assessing the centennial factual climate change, its impacts and trends, social/economic conditions, and selection of actions in China in the context of global climate change based on published and peer-reviewed findings.

The First National Assessment (in 2002–2006) (ECNARCC, 2007 ), in which 88 authors participated, focused on the history and future trend of climate change, its impact and adaptation, and its socioeconomic valuation. The Second National Assessment (in 2008–2011) (ECSNARCC, 2011 ), involving 158 authors, focused on an analysis of global climate change assessment methods, police measures and actions of China in response to climate change, and their effectiveness. A total of 536 lead authors, authors, and contributing authors were engaged in the Third National Assessment (in 2012–2015) (ECTNARCC, 2016 ) that comprehensively assessed factual climate change, its impact, adaptation and mitigation, and policy actions, while producing a special report focusing on two hot points “the impact of climate change on major projects and CO2 utilization technology.” To enhance the applicability and influence of the report, typical cases in terms of climate change response were collected, and concurrently, a popular edition of the report was published.

According to the latest assessment, in China (ECTNARCC, 2016 ), the centennial (1909–2011) average warming over the terrestrial regions is 0.9–1.5 °C; the rate of coastal sea level rise was 2.9 mm per year from 1980 to 2012, which was higher than the global average; since the 1970s, the extent of glaciers and permafrost has shrunk by 10.1% and 18.6%, respectively; by the end of the 21st century, ground surface temperature is likely to increase by 1.3–5.0 °C, and rainstorms, severe storm surges, and large scale droughts will increase in frequency and intensity. The impacts of climate change on China are both advantageous and disadvantageous, with the latter outweighing the former. China can realize its upper-limit target of cutting CO2 emissions by 40%–45% by 2020. Although contradictory conclusions have been drawn in emission peak studies, most studies show that China is likely to peak CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion by around 2030 (He, 2013 ; Du et al., 2015 ).

The conclusions presented in the Chinas National Assessment Report has filled a big gap in regional information in IPCC assessment reports and provided a solid scientific basis for its domestic policymaking in response to climate change and its participation in international negotiation. The promotion of Paris Agreement and the launch of IPCC AR6 will enable China to conduct climate change studies and research deeply. Meanwhile, China will prepare its Fourth National Assessment on Climate Change in 2016 in support of international and national actions to address climate change.

3. Integration of climate change response into China ecological initiative in a more effective way

According to IPCC AR5, to meet the 2 °C global warming target, annual global GHG emissions must be limited to 2010 levels or 50 Gt CO2 -eq per year by 2030; global GHG emissions must be reduced by 40%–70% by 2050 relative to 2010 levels; and net zero emissions must be realized by 2100 (IPCC, 2014 ). Currently, China is the worlds largest GHG emitter, and its per capita emission is higher than 4.4 t. Calls for reaching global GHG peaks as soon as possible and the possible risks of climate change have become the external constraints that China must consider for its long-term development. Therefore, a low-carbon and coordinated development model is the inevitable choice for China.

3.1. Responding to global needs of long-term emission reduction and low-carbon development

Driven by the need to combat climate change, EU, Japan, and U.S. are developing low-carbon sectors as the new source of economic growth. They are focusing on the development of low-carbon industries, research and development of low-carbon technologies, and establishment of related standards and financial systems to gain advantage in the new economic, trade, and technological competition.

Low-carbon development has technological innovation as its fundamental mode to improve the energy efficiency, upgrade energy mix, develop new renewable energy, and transform growth and consumption modes (He et al., 2010 ). The per capita possession of petroleum and natural gas of China is only 7% of that of the world, whereas its energy consumption per unit of GDP was 2.5 times higher than the world average in 2011 (Xie, 2013 ). Low-carbon growth is in accordance with Chinas energy restructuring plan (Du, 2014a ), which aims to establish new high-efficiency, low-carbon, and green-energy systems. In 2007, China released its National Climate Change Programme. Since 2008, it has published Chinas Policies and Actions for Addressing Climate Change (white paper) annually to report the efficiency of its work in this regard. Before the Copenhagen Conference in 2009, China announced its voluntary emission reduction targets, committing itself to a reduction of per unit GDP GHG emission by 40%–45% by 2020 on the basis of 2005. In 2014, China released the National Plan on Climate Change (2014–2020). Before the Paris Climate Change Conference, China announced its Intended Nationally Determined Contributions that clarified its commitment to low-carbon development.

China implements its climate change targets through the Five-Year Socioeconomic Development Plan. During the 12th Five-Year Plan period, China planned to reduce its CO2 emissions per unit GDP by 17% by 2015 on the basis of 2010. According to statistics, China reduced its CO2 emission per unit GDP by 15.8% when compared with 2010, thus achieving 92.3% of carbon reduction target set in 12th Five Year Plan (NDRC, 2015 ). After the Paris Climate Change Conference, China released the 13th Five-Year Plan for national economic and social development in March 2016, in which specific action requirements on effective control of GHG emissions, active adaptation to climate change, and extensive international cooperation were set forth in separate sections. According to the plan, China will effectively control its emissions in key industries such as power generation, steel, building materials, and chemical industry by 2020. Priority sectors such as industry, energy, building, and transport will move toward becoming low-carbon sectors. The nationally unified carbon emission trading market will grow further. A sound carbon emission reporting, verification, certification, and quota management mechanism will be established. These measures will accelerate emission reduction in China and link its carbon market and reporting and verification mechanisms with those of other countries.

3.2. Promoting synergy between climate change response and environment treatment

Since the 1980s, China has achieved significant economic growth, and it is now the second largest economy in the world. However, the extensive growth model of high consumption, pollution, and emission has wasted resources and destroyed the environment. At the opening ceremony of the Paris Climate Change Conference, the Chinese President Xi Jinping frankly said, “In the past few decades, China has seen rapid economic growth and significant improvement in peoples life. However, this has taken a toll on the environment and resources. Having learned the lesson, China is vigorously making ecological endeavors to promote green, circular and low-carbon growth” (Xi, 2015 ).

According to the Report on the State of the Environment in China (2014), among cities that are implementing the new air quality monitoring standard, only 10% have reached the standard of average annual quality. Water quality monitoring of major rivers and key lakes in the country showed that 6.5% and 9.2% sections be marked as category five or worse than category five, respectively (the higher the worse, category five is the worst). Moreover, 30.3% counties have relatively poor or poor ecological quality (MEP, 2015 ). Even during the Paris Climate Change Conference, Beijing was suffering a severe haze (27 November to 1 December, 2015). Under Chinas current energy mix, GHGs (CO2 , CH4 , N2 O, black carbon, etc.) and common atmospheric pollutants (PM2.5, NO, SO2 , mercury, acid rain, O3 , etc.) are primarily caused by the burning of mineral fuels; therefore, they are of the same origin and occur synchronously (Wang and Ning, 2010 ). Climate change response measures such as significantly reducing the dependency on fossil fuels and increasing the portion of clean and renewable energies have synergy with environment protection and public health (IPCC, 2014  and He and Teng, 2014 ). In 2013, China issued the Action Plan for Air Pollution Prevention and Control, thus requiring an adjustment in the energy mix and increase in the supply of clean energy to be strictly implemented at national, local, and industry levels.

The implementation of the Paris Agreement will further promote Chinas actions in addressing climate change and preventing and controlling air pollution. The agreement will be further included in Chinas ecological initiative.

3.3. Strengthening the capability to adapt to climate change

In accordance with the Paris Agreement, countries must cooperate with one another to promote sustainable development, improve the ability to adapt to climate change, enhance resilience, and reduce vulnerability. Countries must also develop national adaptation plans, assess climate change impacts and vulnerability, monitor and evaluate adaptation plans, and enhance the resilience of society, economy, and ecological systems.

China is prone to climate change. According to the China National Climate Change Assessment Report, continuous global warming can lead to frequent extreme weather and climate events, glacier retreats, sea level rise, unbalanced water distribution, and unstable agricultural production, thus impacting socioeconomic development and public health. For instance, over nearly 60 years, extreme weather and climate events have significantly changed in China, with an increase in the frequency of simultaneous or regional events. During 1960–2013, the country suffered 784 simultaneous rainstorms that were concurrently recorded in over 10 stations, i.e., an average of 14.5 times a year. During this period, the number of simultaneous rainstorm events increased from 13.5 to 17.3 a year; two additional heat wave events occurred between 1997 and 2008 when compared with 1976–1994 in terms of annual average frequency. During 1984–2013, weather and climate disasters caused direct economic losses to the tune of CN¥ 188.8 billion per year, which is equivalent to 2.05% of the GDP (Qin, 2015 ). In this century, the average annual number of days with moderate or higher dryness has increased by 37%, 16%, and 10% in northeast, north, and southwest China, respectively (Zheng, 2016 ).

Since 2013, China has released the National Strategy for Climate Change Adaptation and Urban Action Plan for Climate Change Adaptation that focus on climate change adaptation at the national level. According to the strategy and the action plan, China will strengthen its basic research on observation, prediction, and impact assessment of climate change to improve the capability to monitor and warn against extreme weather and climate events and prevent and reduce disasters, thus advancing agricultural production, major infrastructure projects, water management, and city operation. Moreover, China will improve social awareness on climate change adaptation and disaster risk prevention.

China will also implement the Paris Agreement by improving its capability to adapt to climate change. By increasing its own response capability, it will act as an example for other developing countries. Building climate change adaptation capability is a key component of Chinas efforts to promote South–South Cooperation.

4. Chinas constructive participation in international governance

The purpose of climate change negotiations is to develop an equitable, rational, and effective global response and solution. As the issue that attracts the most attention of the world, climate change is an important aspect of exploring global governance model and establishing the community of common destiny for all. From the passing of the UN Resolution 45/212 by the 45th assembly on 21 December, 1990, which decided to establish the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee for a Framework Convention on Climate Change, to the adoption of the convention on 9 May, 1992, which came into effect on 21 March, 1994, to the agreement of Kyoto Protocol on 11 December, 1997, which came into effect on 16 February, 2005, to the adoption of the Paris Agreement on 13 December, 2015, the international negotiations on climate change have made considerable progress. The successful Paris Climate Change Conference has revived the confidence of the international community on multilateral processes.

Climate change negotiations are full of conflicts; however, in essence they are conscientious global efforts with grave responsibility. The only way out for negotiations is win–win cooperation (Du, 2014b ). China always actively participates in the establishment of international mechanism for addressing climate change. Chinese delegates are important contributors to the principle of common but differentiated responsibility, one of the basic principles being followed in the establishment of the mechanism, and the dual-track approach set forth after the Kyoto Protocol. Since the Durban Platform initiated negotiations on the post-2020 global response to climate change, China has clearly acknowledged the need to improve the comprehensive, effective, and sustainable implementation of the convention in negotiations. China has also upheld that countries must follow the principles of common but differentiated responsibility, equitability, and capability. Negotiations must be conducted transparently with wide participation and be driven by the parties on the basis of consensus. To help the parties reach consensus on major issues such as observation and representation and coverage and development of the new agreement from 2014 to 2015, China has released joint declarations on climate change with India (2015), Brazil (2015), U.S. (2014, 2015), France (2015), UK (2014), and the EU (2014). On 30 June, 2015, China submitted its INDC to the Secretariat of the Convention. Before and during the Paris Conference, China communicated extensively with various countries and groups. As the largest developing country, these views and actions of China played a crucial role in building consensus of all parties and ensuring success of the Paris Conference.

The Paris Agreement is the first climate agreement that covers all countries and won unanimous consent. According to the agreement, developed and developing countries must assume their respective obligations and make their respective contributions in a unified institutional framework and a differentiated manner. During the Paris Climate Change Conference, the head of China proposed the development of a future global governance model of win–win cooperation with each country making contribution to the best of its ability; of the rule of law, fairness, and justice; and of inclusiveness, mutual learning, and common development. He also proposed the establishment of a community of common destiny for all. Chinas efforts to the success of the Paris Climate Change Conference are deemed a successful model of its active and constructive participation in international governance and multilateral processes. These proposals not only stand for the basic principles China will follow in promoting the implementation of the Paris Agreement and establishing the follow-up system, but also serve as Chinas guidelines for its active and constructive participation in the development of global mechanism in a responsible manner.

5. Conclusion

The Paris Climate Change Conference is a historic event in the multilateral climate change process. The attendance of Chinas top leader reflected Chinas own needs to incorporate climate change response into its ecological initiative and achieve sustainable socioeconomic growth, as well as its role as a responsible power.

By participating in international scientific climate change assessments, conducting climate change research, and performing three consecutive national assessments on climate change, China has deepened its understanding of the scientific facts and the impact of and response to climate change. After the Paris Climate Change Conference, the consensus on the science-based climate change will serve as the basis for the Chinese government to take measures to address climate change and fulfill international commitments.

China has committed to implementing the Paris Agreement, thus promoting the integration of climate change into Chinas ecological initiative along with a socioeconomic transformation toward low-carbon economy and climate resilience.

Chinas efforts to the success of the Paris Climate Change Conference are deemed a successful model of its active and constructive participation in international governance. The proposal of win–win cooperation with each country contributing to the best of its ability; of the rule of law, fairness, and justice; and of inclusiveness, mutual learning, and common development will serve as Chinas guidelines for implementing the Paris Agreement and its participation in the design of international systems and establishing a common destiny for all.


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