Regulating Domestic Carbon Outsourcing: The Case of China and Climate Change


The vast majority of the growth in greenhouse gas emissions in the coming decades is expected to come from outside of the developed world. Yet on the whole, scholars have made only modest headway in identifying the distinctive features of effective environmental regulation in the developing world. This Article argues that a particular feature of the emerging economies—sharp regional economic disparities—need not be a barrier to climate change regulation. Instead, these disparities can be harnessed to make climate change regulation more effective. Taking China as its focus, this Article notes that both international law and Chinese domestic regulation have attempted to manage economic disparities according to the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR). Building on these examples, it proposes a domestic CBDR approach for confronting China’s climate change risks. Such an approach includes more stringent mitigation obligations for China’s developed coastal provinces to the east, coupled with fiscal and technical support for developing provinces in China’s interior. This Article contends that features of the Chinese sociopolitical context offer advantages in policy development and implementation that render a domestic CBDR approach more likely to succeed than its international counterpart. These advantages include normative legitimacy and confluence with other domestic policy objectives, in particular. Interest group influence and institutional capacity factors offer potential benefits, but also serious challenges. In the end, this Article aims to achieve two main goals: to highlight the importance of differentiated regulation in China’s existing regulatory regime, and to argue that more extensive use of the approach can benefit policy formation and on-the-ground implementation alike.

About the Author

Alex Wang is an Assistant Professor of Law at the UCLA Law School.

By uclalaw