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China’s Emissions and Environmental Sustainability Research Paper

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Updated: Nov 17th, 2020


This paper explores the way innovation affects and streamlines environmental sustainability. The focus is placed on countries that have a high level of emissions, China in particular, and issues associated with this kind of pollution are discussed and explained. Their connection with business revenue and expenditures is mentioned. A range of positive effects observed due to greater environmental sustainability is outlined. In addition, the association between environmental and economic sustainability is considered, emphasizing the significance of the issue at hand.


Since the 20th century, a great deal of attention has been paid to China, a country that has managed to improve its economic conditions greatly and has become a leader of the global market. Today, China is engaged in many different spheres but is widely known for its manufacturing. China offers a wide range of consumer goods that appeal to the general public due to their low prices, and organizations often choose to produce their goods in this country because of the cheap labor. As a result, the country has managed to maintain sustainable economic growth. However, it cannot be denied that such activities affect the environment adversely, as manufacturing plants tend to increase levels of pollution. In addition, vehicles contribute to this pollution problem greatly (Tyfield et al., 2014). Around the world, greater attention is being paid to the preservation of natural resources and the prevention of adverse climate changes, and many countries have implemented various initiatives in order to address these issues. As the largest consumer of natural resources and emitter of greenhouse gasses (GHGs), China is expected to implement innovations in the environmental field to ensure its own sustainable development (Shier, 2016). In fact, emphasizing this area can enable greater economic growth because its implementation requires further manufacturing.

The topic selected for this paper attracts significant attention because of the existing controversy around global pollution. According to Shier (2016), “China is the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gasses but has lower GDP and household carbon emissions per capita than other developed nations” (para. 3). In this way, it becomes clear that China’s high levels of emission are mainly caused by manufacturing, which is critical for the country because it determines its economic growth. By discussing the importance of innovation in environmental sustainability, this paper will demonstrate whether China’s approach allows it to improve its environmental conditions. As a result, it will be possible to identify initiatives that can be used by other countries with high levels of emissions in order to reach sustainable environmental and economic development. Thus, this paper will be based on achieving the following objectives:

  • Exploring an overview of the issues connected with high levels of emissions;
  • Defining the positive effects of environmental sustainability;
  • Considering the role of innovation in the framework of environmental sustainability; and
  • Discussing the connection between environmental and economic sustainability.

Literature Review

Sustainability is a relatively new area of study that has been discussed by professionals for only a short period of time. Indeed, it is one of the newest subjects to bridge science and technology in order to discuss the future. Sustainability can be ensured only when economic and social development are aligned with environmental protection. Mason (2017) explains that sustainability is “the study of how natural systems function, remain diverse and produce everything it needs for the ecology to remain in balance” (para. 3). To become more sustainable, countries are encouraged to implement recycling programs, use energy and natural resources efficiently, and so on. Governments have developed initiatives to regulate businesses and force them to lower emissions and protect the environment. They also encourage companies to develop innovative technologies to address this issue. It is expected that sustainability will fulfill the following goals:

  • Reduction of poverty rates and malnutrition;
  • Improvement of educational and healthcare standards;
  • Adoption of gender equality;
  • Minimization of climate change; and
  • Improvements in the land, air, and water health.

Tyfield et al. (2014) discuss environmental innovation in China as an opportunity to streamline development and reach overall sustainability. The authors argue that low-carbon (CO2) innovations could be effective because they help minimize emissions. They believe that with an emphasis on solar energy and electric urban mobility, power relations can change. In addition to that, changes can be implemented within the agricultural sector to provide more opportunities for the country to become environmentally friendly.

According to Geall (2016), China is highly concerned that its recent growth rate of 6.5% is not enough to ensure sustainable development. That is why its president has spoken about the implementation of the 13th Five-Year Plan (2015-2020), which gives the country an opportunity to develop ecologically. According to this plan, the country is expected to reduce CO2 emissions by 18%, PM2.5 particulates by 25%, and energy consumption by 15%. All in all, it is expected that China will not only improve the natural environment but will also become the main global supplier of innovations for reducing CO2 emissions.

Shier (2016) adds that this plan also presupposes the improvement of regional government policies. In particular, these governments will consider the reduction of GHGs, adaptation strategies for climate change, and international cooperation. In this way, China will develop a carbon trading system, ensure effective verification of emissions reductions, improve low-carbon innovations, and implement them regularly. It is expected that CO2 emissions will be reduced by at least 60% or even totally eliminated by 2030.

Lee and Anadon (2016) claim that China is facing a sustainable development problem. It suffers from severe air pollution and needs to enhance energy production, improve the use of renewables, and minimalize GHGs. The country needs to supply energy, water, and land to ensure sustainable economic growth, but it won’t be able to do this in the future without the implementation of advantageous environmental initiatives. Thus, new technologies and policies must be discussed. It is also vital to engage the Chinese population in these initiatives to cope with the most critical problems.

Method of Analysis

This paper is based on a qualitative approach, and the data presented in it is primarily gained from literature sources that have been thoroughly analyzed. In total, nine sources are used to obtain authoritative information related to the topic, some of which are primary sources. These are mainly official reports presented by Chinese organizations. With their help, information about the Chinese environmental situation is obtained, as well as insights into how it is expected to be improved. As a result, this research paper can be treated as an evidence-based inquiry, making it more valid and useful in practice. The paper is also strengthened by a range of secondary sources that share the ideas of other professionals regarding environmental and sustainability-related issues and initiatives. In this way, it is possible to discuss the same issue from many different sides. Moreover, some secondary sources include information that relates to other countries with high levels of emission, such as the United States. Thus, some comparison and generalization can be made, making the paper more valuable for a larger audience. As professionals still treat the discussed initiatives differently, it is advantageous to assess the primary information personally and then compare it with the ideas of other researchers.

This paper could also have been based on a quantitative approach. For example, emphasis could have been made on the economic changes associated with environmental issues or on the amounts of money spent by businesses and the government to overcome them. However, such research would not fulfill the objectives discussed earlier. In addition, it would be difficult to discuss initiatives that have been implemented just recently or are soon going to be implemented because there is not yet enough information about their effectiveness. Still, some numerical data is present in the paper for it to be supported and well-grounded. All in all, a thorough exploration of the role of innovation in sustainable development can be obtained only by using a qualitative approach.


The fact that high levels of emissions affect people’s health, as well as the environment, is known even to the general public. However, not all people realize that the environment can become a threat to economic sustainability. As emissions are mainly caused by industrial plants and vehicles, a connection between increased corporate revenue and environmental issues can be found (see Fig. 1). However, as this problem attracts a lot of public and governmental attention, organizations must spend a significant amount of money in order to implement measures to deal with the existing issues. For example, Helpler and Grady (2015) state that “greenhouse gasses, unsustainable water consumption, air pollution, and negative land impacts account for the bulk of the $3 trillion in environmental impacts generated by the world’s 1,500 biggest companies” (para. 8).

Company Revenues and Environmental Issues.
Fig. 1: Company Revenues and Environmental Issues.

Environmental issues can cause problems for businesses because they can have a negative influence on transportation, for instance. Floods can prevent manufacturing organizations from contacting their partners and purchasing raw materials. Additional expenses can be incurred in supply chains as well. For example, as China is now highly concerned with fog-thick air pollution, its government has considered taxing carbon emissions. Such pollution also influences the growth of manufacturing. In this way, companies that use manufacturing plants are greatly affected because they need to implement changes to be able to operate as usual.

Realizing that such problems are critical and can have an influence on many different spheres, governments have developed various initiatives to ensure environmental sustainability. In this framework, innovation plays an enormous role. In China, for instance, governmental bodies tend to pay attention to low-carbon innovations that are mainly discussed along four dimensions. At the present moment, none of these dimensions are efficiently addressed, giving professionals an opportunity to reconsider particular challenges and opportunities and to strive for improvements in the near future, as reflected in the table below.

Dimensions of low-carbon innovation Challenges Opportunities
Bottom-up/top-down There is a limited green public sphere. It is vital for the discussed innovations. China’s resources can be used to support existing success.
Low tech/high tech The general public has limited knowledge of research and development initiatives, so they have low trust in them. Related politics can be complicated and difficult to follow. High-tech agricultural innovations are often poorly supported. There is high customer demand in the area of agro-ecology. In addition, many innovations are maintained in this sphere.
Social/technological It is rather difficult to install solar PV modules. Not enough attention is paid to price, capacity, and existing practices. It will be advantageous to investigate the successful implementation and distribution of solar water heaters. It is critical to consider the fact that cheap stand-alone systems failed to benefit from governmental support.
Demand/supply Electric vehicles and two-wheelers are likely to reduce emission levels significantly, but they do not get enough attention or support from the general public. Demand for electric vehicles and two-wheelers can be supported and improved by businesses and government (Tyfield et al., 2014)

The information outlined above proves that innovation could be the main driver of sustainability for China. Under the current 12th Five-Year Plan, governmental bodies have emphasized the fact that specific technology could offer effective renewable energies and that electric vehicle that would allow the country to cope with the high levels of emissions and streamline economic development. Over time, this emphasis has shifted, but many professionals still believe that investment itself is not what will allow China to progress; instead, they discuss clean coal, hydro, solar, and wind power. However, China does not limit innovation to science and technology but rather emphasizes the importance of “theoretical, institutional, scientific and technological, and cultural innovation” (Geal, 2016, para. 8). Thus, it is expected that innovation will have a positive influence on many different spheres so that sustainability will be approached.

In this way, the focus on innovation should make policymakers treat citizens as users of technology. As the main party of demand-driven success, they trigger the development and implementation of innovations through their demands. For example, as emissions affect the operations of organic cooperatives and ecological entrepreneurs, innovation can be used to benefit this sphere. In order to increase public trust, digital networks can be used to allow farmers to get in touch with their urban clients (OECD, 2012). Such supply-chain innovation would be advantageous as it allows people to obtain safer food. Improvements can be observed in the sphere of energy as well. Solar water heaters can be used by both individuals and organizations. In this way, positive influences will be made on the local economy as well because consumers will purchase products made within the country. Such views on innovation are rather new and unique, which is why it is crucial to ensure that both the government and businesses support their development. China’s environmental targets should be used as the basis, of course. By using such interventions, the country will become representative of a more innovative economy and society (Geal, 2016).

The 13th Five-Year Plan supports the previously discussed ideas and develops them further (see Fig. 2). The emission target is highlighted in the framework of climate policy. Xinhua (2016) states that “the pledges submitted with Chinese INDC for the Paris Agreement mentioned a 60-65 percent reduction per unit of GDP and a 20 percent increase in the share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption by 2030” (para. 6).

The 13th Five-Year Plan.
Fig. 2: The 13th Five-Year Plan.

Still, the majority of measures that will be undertaken are those that deal with environmental issues related to human health. The plan targets the reduction of the number of pollutants, with particular attention paid to sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides. China’s government believes that with the help of innovation, better levels of air quality can be ensured by 2020. PM2.5 emissions, which are mainly produced by manufacturing plants, will also be reduced due to these innovations, which are considered to be the major priority of the country. Low-carbon innovation is expected to go through the main stages of the innovation chain. Currently, China is in the third stage, which means that it is adapting and improving technologies to reach the previously mentioned goals and to reduce costs. At this stage, the country is poised to emphasize innovation further (Green & Stern, 2014).


It is clear that innovation plays a critical role in China because it allows the country to improve its environmental conditions and deal with its high level of emissions, which in turn has a positive influence on the country’s economic sustainability. The qualitative analysis in this paper pointed out why sustainability is critical for the country by explaining the drawbacks of high levels of emissions and the ways in which they can be overcome through innovations related to the environment. In addition, an analysis of the sources selected for the study demonstrated the connection between environmental and economic sustainability. Moreover, the quantitative data mentioned in the paper revealed the significance of the currently observed issues and provided an opportunity to assess the country’s expected alterations. All in all, this research allowed for an evaluation of the role of innovation and the conclusion that it is the driver of sustainable development for China, as well as for other countries that have problems with high levels of emissions.


Geall, S. (2016). Web.

Green, F., & Stern, N. (2014).Web.

Helpler, L., & Grady, B. (2015). Environment as economic threat: How sustainability redefines risk. Web.

Lee, H., & Anadon, L. (2016). Sustainable development of the energy sector in China: Challenges and options. Web.

Mason, M. (2017). Web.

OECD. (2012). Web.

Shier, B. (2016).Web.

Tyfield, D., Ely, A., Urban, F., Geall, S., Zuev, D., & Urry, J. (2014). Web.

Xinhua, M. (2016). China focuses on environment and innovation in its 13th Five-Year Plan. Web.

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