Fellows in the News

China is the world’s No. 1 polluter. It burns more coal than the rest of the world combined. It produces more than a quarter of the world’s human-caused global warming gases, nearly as much as North America and Europe put together.

On Tuesday, the country set out to claim another title reflecting its ambitions to change all that: keeper of the world’s largest financial market devoted to cleaning up the air.

China released plans on Tuesday to start a giant market to trade credits for the right to emit planet-warming greenhouse gases. The nationwide market would initially cover China’s vast, state-dominated power generation sector, which produced almost half of the country’s emissions from the burning of fossil fuels last year. If it works as intended, an emissions market will give Chinese power companies a financial incentive to operate more cleanly.

The long-awaited announcement could bolster global efforts to combat climate change after President Trump signaled this year that the United States would back away from Obama-era promises to curb emissions. It could also serve as a big — though ultimately government-controlled — laboratory for such carbon markets, after earlier efforts in Europe and at the local level in China stumbled.

“China’s move to create the world’s largest carbon market is yet another powerful sign that a global sustainability revolution is underway,” Al Gore, the former vice president and a prominent voice on the environment, said in a statement.


Kelly Sims Gallagher, a professor of environmental policy at Tufts University, said the Chinese government was right to be cautious by starting with just the electricity sector. Taking a good inventory of emissions, ensuring the cap is set at a level that will actually spur a reduction in carbon dioxide and sorting out emissions allocations are all complex tasks that take time, she said.

“It’s important to realize you can’t do that overnight,” Ms. Gallagher said.

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