Since becoming the largest manufacturer in the world, and replacing the United States to become the world's largest carbon emitter in 2007, China has been under pressure from the international community to reduce its carbon emissions. Although some voices are critical of China, the country is still active in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and promoting cooperation with developing countries in combating the climate change.
However, most of the criticism is based on the direct trade in energy, raw materials and other commodities or emission volume resulting from the production processes in China, ignoring the international flow of resources and environmental factors hidden behind a large number of traded manufactured goods and services. Nearly one-third of the carbon emissions in China result from the demand from overseas markets.
Compared with the direct trade in natural resources such as energy and raw materials, the embodied flow of trade, better reveals the real sources of resource consumption and pollution emissions resulting from the trade in goods and services.
In other words, the cross-border flow of resources and environment factors (including the total amount of natural resources consumed and pollutants created directly and indirectly in the production process of products or services) through trade activities reflect the global flow and allocation pattern of resources and environment factors in a more reasonable way.
From this perspective, China is taking a large share of the resource costs and pollution burden of overseas consumers.
As the world's factory and the largest manufacturer in recent decades, China has played a unique role as "resource hub" in the global supply chain, namely, primary products are imported into China and then processed before being sold to overseas markets, especially to developed countries.
A recent study from Peking University shows that China's total energy resources exploited volume accounts for 18 percent of the global volume in 2010, ranking the highest in the world. Due to the massive export of energy intensive products, China has become the world's third-largest exporter of embodied energy by net volume, after Russian and Saudi Arabia.
Similarly, the rapid growth of China's export volume has resulted in a sharp rise in emissions. Specifically, the emissions volume serving the demand of the overseas market tripled from 0.59 trillion tons in 2001 to 1.97 trillion tons in 2009, which triggered the ratio of emissions for overseas market demand rising from 20.8 percent in 2002 to 31.8 percent in 2007. This means that nearly one-third of China's annual production of carbon emissions does not serve its own consumers, but meets the needs of foreign consumers.
As a major manufacturing and trading country, China has shouldered tremendous resource costs and environmental burden for global consumers while delivering high-quality and low-cost industrial manufactured goods to the world.
On the other hand, due to its large population and relatively low average income, China's per capita resources consumption is significantly lower than the world average, ranking 93 among 186 nations in 2010, 20 percent of the per capita resources consumption of the US and 25 percent that of Japan.
Nevertheless, in response to climate change, China has taken the initiative to undertake its obligations and actively fulfill its commitments to improving its efficiency of energy use and reducing emissions.
According to the 2018 Annual Report on China's Policy and Action to Combat Climate Change, China's carbon emissions per unit of GDP growth has been reduced by 46 percent compared with that in 2005, reaching the goal of a 40-45 percent reduction target by 2020 ahead of time through its continuous efforts.
As an important contributor to and leading country in global climate governance, China not only actively fulfills its own carbon reduction commitments, but attaches importance to cooperating with other developing countries in combating climate change.
In 2015, China contributed 20 billion yuan ($2.96 billion) to the establishment of a cooperation fund for developing countries fighting climate change. In 2016, it launched 10 low carbon emissions pilot projects, 100 programs designed to moderate climate change, and 1,000 training projects in how to respond to climate change in underdeveloped nations.
China's historical and per capita emission levels are significantly lower than those of developed countries. Out of the traditional framework of the climate finance system, China has set up "voluntary" and "complementary" climate assistance programs for developing countries, which is the unique contribution China has made to global climate governance and sustainable development.