The Potential of Emissions Trading to Mitigate Socio-Economic Inequality across China : A Participatory Systems Study of the Residential Electricity Sector

Dauth, Sabine (2018) The Potential of Emissions Trading to Mitigate Socio-Economic Inequality across China : A Participatory Systems Study of the Residential Electricity Sector. Doctoral thesis, University of East Anglia.

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In Western academic research China is usually viewed as a homogenous entity. However, it is a vast country with significant regional differences in environmental conditions, economic development and the population’s standard of living. The energy system is a reflection of the socio-economic and environmental disparities that exist between different regions. Large amounts of electricity are generated in pollution intensive coal-based power plants in the poorer inner provinces to support rising consumption in the more affluent urban centres on the East coast.
The main objective of the thesis is to examine the effect of a national carbon market on these regional differences through a qualitative and quantitative case study of the residential electricity sector. The study also aims to provide methodological insights on how to identify and evaluate alternative energy futures in a complex world. In order to cope with the uncertainty of future developments and the plethora of partly contradictory social preferences, a participatory approach is combined with the application of a system analytical toolset that considers complex system interlinkages. The empirical analysis consists of three stages: First an exploratory stage with stakeholder engagement, second a systems modelling stage simulating different carbon market scenarios and third an evaluation stage ranking of these scenarios based on public opinion.
The main empirical insight is that a price on carbon is relatively ineffective in limiting electricity demand of affluent households in the East. This is significant as increasing residential electricity usage could jeopardise the sustainability reform of the electricity sector. Another key finding from the empirical study is that the carbon market scenario ranked highest by study participants would lead to a widening gap between the inner and the Eastern regions. In such a scenario, where the energy generators shoulder most of the cost burden, the advanced economies of the coastal provinces would grow at a faster pace than the mining dominated inner regions. Scenario simulation also demonstrates that supplementary equity enhancing interventions could mitigate regional socio-economic and environmental disparities by supporting the establishment of innovative industries in China’s centre.
In general, the thesis contributes to the discussion on the significance of China’s current political, institutional and cultural setting for its market-led sustainability transition. By illustrating the constraints to achieve the sustainability targets anchored in the 13th Five Year Plan (2016-2020), implications are drawn from the research that are relevant for the current political process. Furthermore, the thesis highlights the importance of identifying dependencies and interactions between and within different levels of analysis to aid the understanding of a multifarious problem. To this end, it develops a bespoke methodological framework that supports the appraisal of complex situations involving divergent preferences for the solution outcome.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Faculty \ School: Faculty of Social Sciences > School of Global Development (formerly School of International Development)
Depositing User: Jennifer Whitaker
Date Deposited: 25 Oct 2018 14:04
Last Modified: 25 Oct 2018 14:04


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