Critical theme: Can China help build a global eco-civilisation?

Critical theme

China's role in global governance is growing. This increased engagement has important implications for global climate and biodiversity issues – and how they may play out at the local level. On 25 September 2019, IIED and chinadialogue hosted a critical theme to discuss China’s institution-building, and challenges and opportunities in global green governance

A solar panel outside a rural house on stilts

China’s role in global green governance is often viewed through a false binary choice: between China “buying into the Western-led world order or trying to overthrow it by waging war”.

Commentators say China appears to be forging a set of rules and institutions informed by Chinese ideas about development and sustainability. 

The Chinese government's concept of "ecological civilisation" aims to promote an economic strategy based on ecological upgrading and inclusive development. At the same time, China's hugely ambitious Belt and Road Initiative is pushing state-backed and private financing for infrastructure projects deep into the lands and rural communities of developing countries.  

Both these initiatives could have profound effects on global climate and biodiversity. 

So, what does China’s growing focus on global governance mean for the environment, particularly as societies and governments in Europe and North America increasingly fracture and look inward?

The meeting, hosted by IIED and chinadialogue, featured a panel of China scholars and environmental practitioners.

About the panellists

  • Lila Buckley, senior researcher at IIED and leads the 'China in the world' programme of work that focuses on the sustainable development challenges of China’s overseas aid, trade and investments
  • Sam Geall (chair): executive editor of chinadialogue, associate fellow at Chatham House and associate faculty at the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU) at the University of Sussex
  • Dr Yuka Kobayashi: lecturer/assistant professor in China and International Politics at SOAS, University of London, and visiting research professor at Nankai University (China). Her recent work focuses on China's Belt and Road Initiative in Central Asia, Europe and Southeast Asia
  • Dr. Wei Shen: research fellow at the Institute of Development Studies who is researching the political economy of China’s low-carbon transformation, China’s role in global climate finance and climate governance, and South-South cooperation on climate and environmental related issues
  • Dr Haisen Zhang: director of the Centre for International Development and Innovation Studies at the University of International Business and Economics (UIBE) in Beijing and works on aid policies and practices and institution-building in China-Africa South-South Cooperation.

About the Critical theme series

IIED set up the 'Critical theme' discussion series to explore new ideas and to broaden the knowledge of its staff and partners. 

The seminars cover a wide range of speakers and topics. Previous events have looked at 'Gender and environmental change', the 'Links between climate change and food security' and, most recently, 'The polluter elite, inequality and the ecological crisis'.

IIED and chinadialogue last hosted a Critical Theme in March 2015, when 'Pollution, politics and social media in China' featured a powerful film about China's pollution problems, followed by a discussion about environmental issues in China and the growing impact of social media.