The role of environmental concerns in the politics of China
The Communist Party of China under President Xi Jinping is the principal source of political power in China. This implies that the party’s philosophy and agendas pertaining to climate change will have a major impact on the path that China takes in addressing some of the most pressing issues. Most importantly, the political influence of this party determines the ability of other agencies with vested interests in environmental degradation to address the issues (Guttman et al., 2018). However, Smith (2020) observes that this party is a major threat to the global efforts to address pollution, seeing that its agenda is to protect its ability to China’s GDP targets at all costs, including sacrificing environmental regulations. With the country currently recovering from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is arguable that during this period, the government is more likely to relax its measures with the aim of maximizing the economic benefits from its industries. For example, despite China being the country with the largest solar power industry, the government has reduced funding to both wind and solar power sectors leading to a surge in the use of coal as a source of energy, meaning that the rates of emission may go higher. Through the State apparatus such as the police, the Communist Party has been able to run a totalitarian government that is capable of suppressing any resistance to some of its agendas that are detrimental to the environment. This is reflected in the “Great Firewall,” where the public is prevented from accessing online information regarding some of the trends, such as China being the leading emitter in the world. Therefore, environmental concerns in China are an important contributor to the governance measures that the government adopts, mainly through restricting the public from demanding better means of addressing environmental pollution.
Political governance in China lies in three main levels: city or county, municipal or provincial, and central government. According to Andrews-Speed (2020), China has registered a major decline in the number of ministries that work under the central government to 26 down from 51 in 1981, but the multiplicity of government levels and ministries has made the system of governance even more complex, resulting to a “fragmented authoritarianism.” Whereas the government of China has, over time, been faulted for employing propaganda with the aim of controlling masses, Guttman et al. (2018) observe that it has been responsive to the environmental concerns raised by activists, the public, and interest groups with the aim of preventing social unrest or loss of legitimacy. This indicates that being one of the most important challenges in modern China, environmental pollution is a critical determinant of the policies adopted at different levels of governance and also the agendas that the ruling party employs to retain legitimacy.
One of the most effective approaches towards addressing the issue of environmental pollution is the adoption of both legislative and non-legislative policies that are designed to reduce pollution and address the existing challenges emanating from this phenomenon. The policies adopted by any administration are a reflection of its agenda regarding environmental degradation, and due to the universal nature of climate change and other negative impacts of pollution, it may influence the international relations between countries. According to Guttman et al. (2018), China is seen as the focal point for a successful reduction of emission of greenhouse gases that are a leading cause of climate change, and without a big reduction in this country, addressing climate change will be impossible. However, being the country with the highest rate of emission in the world, China is faced with the biggest challenge of reducing its emissions without having a negative implication on its economy and retaining a good relationship with the international communities with a vested interest in pollution reduction (Beeson, 2018). For example, China remains the country with the highest reliance on coal as a source of energy for both domestic and industrial uses. This means that moving to cleaner sources of energy will be quite a challenge. However, the country has established a nuclear program that has major political implications both locally and internationally.
Nuclear energy is seen as one of the most potent solutions to environmental pollution in modern society. According to Beeson (2018), the need for alternative sources of energy that are friendlier to the environment is reflected in the rapid growth of China’s nuclear program. The country established its first nuclear power plant in 1994 but today has the largest nuclear program, following the USA and France. The primary actors in the management of nuclear power in China and the formulation of policies pertaining to this power include the National Energy Administration and the National Development and Reform Commission. However, the delegation of these duties to the agencies requires approval by the government and also the international community to remain within the provisions of nuclear agreements. Andrews-Speed (2020) observes that the government of China has both administrative and coercive capacity in managing its nuclear power. This means that the State often employs undue influence in controlling the establishment of nuclear plants by its agencies and the private corporations.
Being a party to major international security and environmental conventions, the government of China is compelled to adopt global norms in developing its nuclear energy. However, He et al. (2020) observe that China has been slow to ratify the agreements that are devised to control nuclear proliferation and address security concerns, and instead focusing on the conventions that are aimed at promoting nuclear safety. This is an indicator that national interests are the principal consideration that the government makes as opposed to the potential security impacts. For example, China has been adamant about ratifying the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage (CSC) and the Protocol to Amend the Vienna Convention (Sun et al., 2020). This is despite the US having pursued the country to adopt the former convention that is designed to compel nations to take responsibility for the damages emanating from their nuclear power.