In September 2021, China's state and party leader Xi Jinping told the United Nations General Assembly that his country would peak its emissions by 2030 and become climate neutral by 2060. Achieving this goal, however, is not solely in the hands of planners in Beijing, but of the myriad local governments in the world's second most populous country. In cooperation with FES Shanghai, a research team from Duke University in Kunshan has been studying how different strategies of local governments in China have a social impact. The focus is on how a socially just climate transition can succeed.
A socially balanced energy transition must fairly distribute the burdens it creates; only then can it be successful. China's authorities have already begun to implement the 2030 and 2060 targets - also as part of the "Eradicate Poverty" campaign (which was officially declared successful in 2021). In some cases, social concerns have been factored in. However, as our case studies show, not every well-designed measure was able to achieve its intended goals.
The energy transition in China and elsewhere will inevitably produce losers (both individuals and entire regions) - compensating them adequately and sustainably is fundamental for a just energy transition. Therefore, Prof. Zhang Junjie and Prof- Coraline Goron emphasize that in order to achieve a just energy transition, the consideration of social consequences should be standardized at all levels and in all policy projects. This social component must be subjected to subsequent, regular evaluation on an equal footing with the hoped-for environmental benefits.
Dr Coraline Goron is Assistant Professor of Environmental Policy in the International Mater of Environmental Policy Department at Duke Kunshan University.
Dr Junjie Zhang is the director of the Initiative for Sustainable Investment (ISI) at Duke Kunshan University and Professor of Environmental Economics in the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University.
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