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Becoming a Market: Constructing Carbon in China’s Emissions Trading System

Authors: Cecilia Springer*, UC Berkeley, Xi Wang, CU Boulder
Topics: Energy, China, Environment
Keywords: carbon, carbon dioxide, carbon markets, China, emissions trading, MRV
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

China recently launched a national carbon market that, if implemented according to plan, will be the largest in the world in terms of emissions covered. As the timeline and scope of the national carbon market have shifted in response to various challenges, national policymakers have made it clear that more complete and accurate emissions inventories from regulated sectors are needed in order to design key features of the national carbon market. This paper will examine the translation of the global concept of a carbon market into the Chinese context through the lens of quantifying emissions, showing how China’s approach to emissions accounting as the foundation of its carbon market has taken on local forms. The symbolic tension between a global pollutant, carbon dioxide, and local policy responses is embodied in this process of transforming carbon dioxide emissions from a power plant in China into a commodified carbon allowance that can be traded in China’s carbon market and perhaps even globally. This process of making emissions commensurable is a momentous task across the heterogeneity of China’s industrial landscape. We focus specifically on the role of data, showing how the emissions accounting process for China’s carbon market sometimes enables, sometimes stymies standardization. We lay out the ‘datascape’ that underlies China’s national carbon market, a living landscape of emissions information, including the actors and processes that create and manage that information at various scales.

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