Is China Serious About Climate Change?

According to former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Paulson Institute Chairman Hank Paulson, the answer is yes.

Kevin Rudd and Hank Paulson speak at the Asia Society in New York

China’s position on climate change has flipped 180 degrees in the last five years, according to Rudd, who just joined the Institute as a Distinguished Fellow. In an onstage conversation with Paulson yesterday at the Asia Society in New York, Rudd described the Chinese position back in 2009, when then Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao declined to attend a negotiation session with world leaders at the Copenhagen climate change conference. “China saw climate change as a global problem. Historically, they legitimately felt it was the fault of the West and that the West should fix it,” Rudd said.

Now, he said, in response to the air pollution crisis that has erupted in Chinese cities, the Chinese leadership has made environmental policy a top priority. “Chinese citizens are angry as hell about pollution, and in China there is much deeper consensus that the Chinese must act globally if they want to achieve the rejuvenation of the Chinese state and be accepted as a great power in the councils of the world, while delivering opportunities for a good life to individual citizens,” he added.

“They are working very hard on these issues,” said Paulson, noting that China’s commitment to solving its air pollution problems is one reason the Institute just established a Climate Change and Air Quality Program, focusing on China. “A lot can be done in the area of energy efficiencies and building codes,” which will be key areas of focus for the program. “The real answer to the climate change problem will depend in the ability of the United States and China to work together and in complementary ways. This will really come down to smart, courageous leadership, and not letting differences preclude working together in areas where there are shared interests.”