Our work in China

China's economic progress over the past few decades has been dramatic, but so too have changes in environmental governance in the country. The China Strategy Team carries out work to improve China's role as an international development actor. To accomplish this, we work across all research groups at IIED.

Rice terraces in Changjiang Valley, China. Credit: Gabriele Quaglia

China is now the third largest economy in the world. Its income has increased by 1,200% bringing the number of people living on less than a dollar day from 65% of the population in 1981 to less than 10% today. The country is on track to meet most of its Millennium Development Goals and also leads the world in several indicators of environmentally friendly market growth, including wind power capacity and biomass power.

With such impressive growth it is easy to forget that major disparities and inequalities still exist; China is the largest developing country in the world, with 100 of the world’s countries ahead of it in terms of per capita income. China’s progress has also come at tremendous environmental costs, both in terms of resource depletion and pollution.

Facing multiple environmental and development challenges simultaneously, China has become a laboratory of sustainable development experiments. Supporting and sharing lessons from these 'experiments' can help other developing countries cope with increasingly scarce resources and rapid environmental change. Equally, China will become a more effective and responsible agent of change in global development processes if it is able to learn from experiences of other countries.

What we do

The China strategy team develops partnerships, carries out research and engages with policymakers to contribute to improving China’s role as a sustainable development actor in Africa, Latin America and South East Asia. Our focus is on research and policy exchanges between China and other countries where IIED has strong ties.

Specifically, the team implements projects in the following areas:

Mapping out Chinese agricultural engagement in Africa and developing related case studies. This work includes the “China and Brazil in African Agriculture” (CBAA) project, which will explore new development cooperation engagements in agriculture across four African countries.

Coordinating a China-African forest governance learning platform. To find out more read this report about the launch event of the China-Africa Forest Governance Learning Platform in March 2013.  

Carrying out research on Chinese investments and land-based contracts in Africa.  Download Chinese agriculture goes global: food security for all?

Carrying out research on sustainability standards in Chinese trade with Latin America. A new study examining Chinese trade and investment in mining, agriculture and forestry in Chile, Brazil and Peru says sustainability is increasingly on the agenda. Download Sustainability standards in China-Latin America trade and investment.

Supporting Chinese smallholder innovation for resilient agriculture. Read the planning and methodology report for a five-year project taking place in China and other areas working to strengthen biocultural systems for food security in the face of Climate Change.

Analysing Chinese policy and carrying out research on climate-resilient drylands development in China. Scientific evidence is mounting that rangeland degradation is intensifying and expanding in China’s rangelands, as a consequence of 30 years of inappropriate policies, as well as climate change. Read this briefing on pastoralism in China.  

Exploring key lessons from China’s urban transition. Download Learning from urbanization in the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa).  

This work entails grappling with Chinese perspectives, understanding where Chinese actors are coming from, investing in research to better understand Chinese development models, and ensuring that this research informs constructive next steps to influence better development outcomes—both in China and abroad. From a global perspective ‘engaging China’ may seem unattainable, but by focussing on specific sectors and geographies, we find there is room to influence the direction of change.

Other international organisations are also doing work on this topic, but there remain gaps. There is often a lack of:

  • reliable, grounded research on trends and future trajectories
  • networked individuals both in China and in developing countries where Chinese investing is taking place, and 
  • tools for engaging policymakers.

IIED brings unique strengths to fill these gaps:

  • global leadership in shaping sustainable development research and policy
  • deep networks with national-level stakeholders in these regions, and
  • insightful research based on case studies.