Understanding China's largest sustainability experiment: Atmospheric and climate governance in the Yangtze river economic belt as a lens

Meng Peng, Hongzhang Xu, Chenfei Qu, Jiayu Xu, Liurui Chen, Lei Dhun, Jiming Hao

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


    China's coal consumption has made up more than 70% of China's energy assumption since 1978, and it accounts for approximately 21% of global carbon emissions in 2017. How China reach clean air targets, fulfill its commitment to reduce CO2 emission in the Paris Agreement, and achieve higher targets, such as peak CO2 emissions by 2030 and achieve net-zero emission by 2060? A range of sustainability experiments have been conducted to support China's sustainability transition. As the biggest one among them, the Yangtze River Economic Belt runs across the middle of the country from east to west, with an area of 2,050,000 km2 or 21.39% of China's territory, and covers 11 provinces and cities. Although many studies have been conducted relevant to the Belt, few studies have described the research landscape, trends, and relevant topics of interest and gaps. To address these gaps, we review, synthesize, and analyze the latest publications on the Belt and find environmental governance has been the key topic in current publications. Significantly, atmospheric and climate governance may be used as a lens to understand China's environmental governance, human-environmental interactions and trade-offs between environmental protection and socio-economic development in the Belt. Based on this lens, we find that: I. current research on the Belt has started and increased rapidly in the past five years, but our knowledge on it as a cross-boundary, cross-level and cross-sector sustainability experiment is somewhat limited; II. distribution of risk and responsibility across different regions in atmospheric and climate governance has not been well-addressed; III. new carbon emission accounting methods, especially methods based on a consumption-based approach, could be adopted to offer more comprehensive and just understandings about sectoral differences and environmental benefits; IV. influence of topography and meteorology on ambient air quality in the Belt cannot be ignored and should be included by the following research; and V. trade-offs and competing interests among different actors should be recognized and balanced to facilitate sustainable industrial upgrading, innovation and transforming without compromising individual well-being and regional development.
    Original languageEnglish
    JournalJournal of Cleaner Production
    Publication statusPublished - 2021


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