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Selected Research Project
Project Title China and Global Warming: Reconciling International Justice and the Realities of Climate Change
Principal Investigator

Professor Paul G. Harris

Area of Research Project Social Studies
Project Period
From 1/2010 To 12/2011
  • To understand China’s opposition to binding greenhouse gas emission limitations;
  • To situate China’s conceptions of climate justice in the context of the future impacts of climate change;
  • To understand consumption patterns of growing affluent classes in China and to assess how these comport with China’s climate policies and diplomacy;
  • To compare ethical arguments for international and cosmopolitan climate justice;
  • To explicate an account of climate justice that acknowledges the responsibilities of all affluent people, regardless of the states in which they live; and
  • To recommend climate change-related policies for China that are consistent with development rights and historical responsibility.
Methods Used
  • Review secondary and tertiary literature; content analysis of primary Chinese-language documents from government and non-official Chinese sources; and interviews with academics involved in climate change negotiations.
Summary of Findings
  • Disaggregating the Chinese state and seeking to limit the greenhouse emissions of affluent Chinese people can benefit international climate negotiations;
  • When China was more uniformly poor, it made sense to fully invoke international justice (i.e., all responsibility to address climate change fell to rich states). However, China is now the largest national source of GHG pollution and many millions of affluent Chinese are living like people in developed countries;
  • Cosmopolitan justice requires affluent people everywhere, including in China, to limit their greenhouse gas emissions. This approach can help to resolve interstate conflicts over ‘common but differentiated responsibility’;
  • Internationally, cosmopolitan justice has practical significance for the well-being of future generations; and
  • Nationally, cosmopolitan justice can enable China to maintain its opposition to national emissions reductions while limiting pollution caused by wealthy citizens, thereby enabling the country to become a leader in combatting climate change.
  • This research is an important but missing study on international ethics and environmental policy in the world’s largest developing country. It has profound implications for China’s climate change policies and the wellbeing of the Chinese people. In addition to contributing to scholarly debate, the research engages policy-makers in both China to act on new realities in climate politics, policy and diplomacy.
  • Harris, P. G. & Symons, J. (2010). Justice in Adaptation to Climate Change: Cosmopolitan Implications for International Institutions. Environmental Politics, 19 (4), 617–636.
  • Harris, P. G. (ed.) (2011). China's Responsibility for Climate Change: Ethics, Fairness and Environmental Policy. Bristol: Policy Press.
  • Harris, P. G. (ed.) (2011). Ethics and Global Environmental Policy: Cosmopolitan Conceptions of Climate Change. Cheltanham: Edward Elgar.
  • Harris, P. G. (2012). Environmental Policy and Sustainable Development in China. Bristol: Policy Press.
  • Harris, P. G., Chow, A. S. Y., & Karlsson R. (2012). China and Global Warming: Reconciling International Justice and the Realities of Climate Change. SPRU Research Paper No. 2012/01. Hong Kong: Social and Policy Research Unit.
  • Harris, P. G., Chow A. S. Y., & Symons, J. (2012). Gas Emissions from Cities and Regions: International Implications Revealed by Hong Kong. Energy Policy, 44, 416-424.
  • Harris, P. G. & Symons, J. (2013). International Norms in Climate Governance: Greenhouse Gas Accounting and the Problem of Consumption. Global Environmental Politics, 13 (1), 9-29.
  • Harris, P. G., Chow, A. S. Y., & Karlsson R. (2013). China and Climate Justice: Moving beyond Statism. International Environmental Agreements, 13 (3), 291-305.
Biography of Principal Investigator

Paul G. Harris, a political scientist, is Chair Professor of Global and Environmental Studies. He has served as Chair Professor of the Department of Social Sciences, Chair Professor of the Department of Science and Environmental Studies, Head of the Department of Social Sciences, Director of the Social and Policy Research Unit, and Senior Research Fellow in the Centre for Governance and Citizenship. For nine years, he worked at Lingnan University, where he was Professor of International and Environmental Studies, Director of the Centre for Asian Pacific Studies, Director of the Environmental Studies Programme, and Director of the Project on Environmental Change and Foreign Policy. Throughout the 1990s, he taught at universities in Britain and the United States.

Professor Harris's research on international environmental affairs, climate change politics and policy, global environmental justice, and other aspects of world affairs has been published widely. Well over 100 of his papers have appeared as book chapters and as articles in journals such as Asia-Pacific Review; the Cambridge Review of International Affairs; Energy Policy; Environmental Politics; Environmental Values; Environment and Behavior; Ethics and International Affairs; Ethics, Place, and Environment; Global Change, Peace, and Security; Global Environmental Politics; International Relations; the Journal of Environment and Development; the Journal of Global Ethics; the Journal of International Studies; Law and Policy; Natural Resources Journal; Nature and Culture; Peace Review; Politics; Politics and Policy; and the Review of International Political Economy, among others.  Professor Harris is East Asia Regional Editor of Global Change, Peace, and Security; a member of the editorial boards of Diplomacy and Statecraft, Environmental Humanities, the International Journal of Global Warming, and the Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences; and a peer reviewer for a range of professional journals and scholarly publishers. His work has been supported by highly competitive research funds, including the Research Grants Council's General Research Fund.

Professor Harris is the author of International Equity and Global Environmental Politics (Ashgate), World Ethics and Climate Change (Edinburgh University Press) and Environmental Policy and Sustainable Development in China (Policy Press), and contributing editor of Climate Change and American Foreign Policy (St. Martin’s Press/Palgrave Macmillan), The Environment, International Relations, and US Foreign Policy (Georgetown University Press), International Environmental Cooperation (University Press of Colorado), Global Warming and East Asia (Routledge), Confronting Environmental Change in East and Southeast Asia (United Nations University Press/Earthscan), Europe and Global Climate Change (Edward Elgar), Environmental Change and Foreign Policy (Routledge), Climate Change and Foreign Policy (Routledge), The Politics of Climate Change (Routledge), China’s Responsibility for Climate Change (Policy Press), and Ethics and Global Environmental Policy (Edward Elgar). He is co-editor of The Global Politics of AIDS (Lynne Rienner). His forthcoming work includes an authored book, What’s Wrong with Climate Politics (and How to Fix It) (Polity), and a major edited volume, the Routledge Handbook of Global Environmental Politics.

Funding Source

General Research Fund