Climate Change Epistemic Communities And Their Influence On China’s International Environmental Politics – OpEd


China is one of the countries that has played an active role in achieving the success of international agreement on climate change (Paris Agreement). In an effort to achieve this success, China has set long-term targets through its national strategy included in the Five Year Plan. This Five-Year Plan is designed as a road map that will be implemented directly by policy makers and provincial governments, both on a domestic and international scale.

Currently, China’s Five-Year Plan has entered its 14th period. The climate strategy included in it includes developing renewable energy, establishing a carbon peak policy system, carbon neutrality, and “1+N” policy, encouraging readjustment of industrial, energy, and transportation structures, and establishing a carbon market with the largest scale of greenhouse gas emissions in the world.

This was done in line with China’s pledge at the COP21 conference in Paris in December 2015, when President Xi Jinping confirmed China’s commitment to reduce total carbon emissions per unit of GDP by 60-65% from 2005 levels by 2030 and peak carbon emissions in 2060 . This promise was then implemented through the Five-Year Plan strategy to achieve the vision of ecological development and low carbon emissions.

The Presence of Climate Change Epistemic Groups in China

The implementation of climate policies through China’s national strategy cannot be separated from the role of the ecological epistemic group which functions to provide policy suggestions and advice to decision makers. By definition, an epistemic group is a group that not only shares the same set of principle and causal beliefs, but also shares the same ideas about validity and shared policy efforts.

One of the most influential ecological epistemic groups in China is the NCCEC (National Climate Change Expert Committee). NCCEC is an expert advisory body established in China in 2007. Operating under central government approval and located within the China Meteorological Administration, NCCEC functions as a decision-making support institution and national thought center that provides advice on climate change-related issues, as well as strategies and China’s policy in this area. This committee consists of renowned academics and experts in fields such as atmospheric science, oceanology and hydrology.

In international relations theory, epistemic communities were first introduced by John Ruggie and then refined by Peter M. Haas. According to Haas, an epistemic community is a group of professionals from various scientific disciplines who have the ability to produce knowledge that is relevant in making public policies about certain technical issues (Haas, 1992).

Haas added four important elements that an epistemic community has:

  1. A set of shared principal and normative beliefs that provides the basis for members’ behavior.
  2. Shared beliefs about causality provide the basis for the link between various policy channels and expected outcomes.
  3. Shared beliefs about the validity of which are used as criteria for measuring the validity of the knowledge that is the expertise of its members.
  4. A set of common policy practices related to the skills and competition members use to solve problems.

In relation to these four elements; First, the NCCEC community has shared beliefs about the principles and norms that form the basis of their behavior. They understand the importance of climate change issues and are committed to making relevant scientific contributions. Second, NCCEC members understand the link between climate change and its impacts. They have a deep understanding of the factors causing climate change and how policies can influence expected outcomes.

Third, NCCEC uses internally agreed criteria to assess the validity of the knowledge they produce. They conduct valid research and are based on scientific evidence to provide accurate policy advice. Fourth, NCCEC engages in policy practices that are relevant to the expertise and competencies of its members. They try to solve concrete problems in policy making related to climate change.

This shows that the epistemic community must be able to persuade decision makers, and successfully run the government system by aligning themselves in bureaucratic positions, if their knowledge can be used as a basis for policy making. The extent to which the Chinese climate science epistemic community is able to influence Chinese policy also depends on the active support of the Chinese leadership itself.

NCCEC’s Role through China’s International Environmental Politics Action

China has recognized the need for advanced scientific input in the formulation of climate change policies at the national and international levels. The emergence of NCCEC has played an important role in influencing China’s collaboration on climate change issues by supporting decision-making on key climate change issues and providing advice on China’s long-term climate change policies. This includes contributing to the development of strategies for China’s goals of peaking carbon emissions by 2030 and achieving carbon neutrality by 2060.

To see the role of NCCEC, this paper will provide an example of one of the most famous researchers named Xie Zhenhua as a representative of China’s climate change epistemic community. In fact, there are a number of relevant experts who can illustrate the work of the community, but space does not allow to explain them all one by one.

Xie Zhenhua is China’s Special Envoy for Climate Change, a position he was appointed to in February 2021. He has also been the Special Advisor on China’s Climate Change Affairs at the Ministry of Environment and Ecology (EEC) since April 2020. In addition, he is a member of the National Climate Change Expert Committee China (NCCEC), Xie has played an important role in reducing emissions and championing carbon emissions trading and climate aid for developing countries.

A key event in Xie Zhenhua’s career was his appointment as head of the Chinese delegation to the UN Climate Change Conference in 2007. This role he held for more than a decade. During that time, Xie was involved in designing various policies implemented by China to reduce carbon intensity for sustainable economic development. One example is the preparation of the Chinese government’s official statement on climate change and a white paper entitled “China’s Policies and Actions to Address Climate Change” in 2008. This white paper utilized the expertise of Chinese climate scientists.

Xie was also instrumental in securing a positive outcome at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP21) in Paris in 2015. At the event, China signed the Paris Agreement, an agreement committing all countries to work to limit global warming to below 2 °C, with preferences reaches the limit of 1.5 °C. For his efforts in addressing global climate change, Xie Zhenhua received the Lui Che Woo Prize in 2017.

It didn’t stop there, in February 2021, through the UN Security Council High-Level debate on Climate and Security, Xie Zhenhua attended a high-level open conference video debate held by the UN Security Council. He stressed the importance of full implementation of the Paris Agreement and called on the international community to work together to face climate change. Xie also introduced new initiatives related to climate change announced by President Xi Jinping and China’s contribution. Xie has also led the Chinese delegation to the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow in 2021 and the COP27 Summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, in November 2022.

In the context of bilateral cooperation, Xie Zhenhua often acts as a country representative in signing the legal framework in the form of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on climate cooperation with countries that have climate cooperation with China. For example, in November 2014, through the sixth Australia-China ministerial dialogue on Climate Change, Xie represented China in signing the second MoU. This MoU is an important signal of Australia’s constructive engagement on climate change with the world’s largest emitter and our number one trading partner. Under the MoU, Australia and China agreed to work together to achieve practical climate change outcomes, including through energy efficiency; technological cooperation; and improved emissions data reporting.

Then in 2023, Xie, as China’s special envoy for climate dialogue, will also visit with a special envoy from the US to discuss strengthening dialogue and cooperation in the global multilateral climate process. Although there has been no significant breakthrough, this meeting is considered a “positive sign” for US-China relations and the global climate agenda ahead of the COP28 UN Climate Change Conference in Dubai in November 2023. The results of this meeting resulted in a joint statement on addressing climate change, which reaffirmed the commitment they are to tackle methane gas and promise to increase climate cooperation, considering that China and the US are the largest emitting countries in the world.

From the previous explanation, Xie Zhenhua is just one of many climate experts in China. However, Xie’s journey can be an illustration of his active participation as a member of the climate change epistemic group in supporting China’s political actions in the international environment. Xie champions policies and cooperation to address global environmental challenges. Its passion for championing sustainable solutions and awareness of the impacts of climate change have helped strengthen China’s position in international dialogue on environmental issues. It can be concluded that, NCCEC as China’s ecological epistemic group plays a very active role in influencing China’s climate change strategy and fostering international collaboration to overcome global environmental challenges.

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