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  • Routledge Handbook Chapter - Chairman Coal vs Digital Dragon - Accept PURE

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China and Sustainable Transition – Chairman Coal vs. Green Cyber-Dragon

Research output: Contribution in Book/Report/Proceedings - With ISBN/ISSNChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review

Publication date09/2023
Host publicationThe Routledge Handbook on Global China
EditorsMaximilian Mayer, Emilian Kavalski, Marina Rudyak, Xin Zhang
Number of pages21
<mark>Original language</mark>English


China’s contribution to global expedited, deep decarbonisation is absolutely crucial, as the largest absolute emitter of any nation-state, while on many counts, such as regarding renewable energy or electric vehicle industries, it also leads the world. Yet its path to sustainable transition remains extremely challenging, not least due to the exceptional dependence if its economy on coal. This chapter examines these challenges over three steps, unfolding a comprehensive overview of the strategically plausible medium-term futures regarding China’s route beyond coal. First, it considers the deeply entrenched, even constitutive, dependence of the current political economy of the PRC on coal, illuminating just how difficult it will be to effect a rapid change of this status quo. Secondly, it then turns to a parallel but usually neglected concern that will prove crucial in determining how successfully, smoothly and quickly China moves beyond coal; namely, the dynamics of the construction of an entirely new energy system that successfully combines three key dimensions of innovation, in all of which China displays considerable dynamism: digitalization, renewable energy and storage/batteries (hence ‘DRS’). Finally, we consider how well China will be able to maintain this innovation dynamism, especially since innovation – and in these spheres specifically – is irreducibly and increasingly connected to issues of political tension, both domestically and internationally. Altogether, the chapter illuminates how China’s ‘innovation-as-politics’ towards sustainable transition currently sits uncertainly between a locked-in system of coal-dependent authoritarianism and an as-yet-unborn new system of world-leading ‘cleantech’, the realization of which will also need political reform.