China can use its recovery from the COVID-19 crisis to help lead the world in a resource-efficient and low-carbon revolution, if it avoids locking itself, and the Belt and Road Initiative countries (BRI), into the technologies and infrastructure of the past, finds two new reports published today (22 April) by the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

The reports, which were funded by Energy Foundation China, outline an innovative, sustainable and low-carbon approach to China’s development which could be incorporated in China’s 14th Five Year Plan (2021 – 2025). The 14th plan will shape the nature of China’s transition toward a high-income economy over the next 30 to 40 years, and largely determine how much action it will take on climate change. As one of the world’s major emitters of carbon dioxide, the reports argue that China must reach net zero in the same time frame as the rest of the world if the Paris Agreement targets are to be achieved.

The reports find that continued high-carbon growth in China would aggravate the very serious problems of air, water and soil pollution and create an environment hostile enough to reverse decades of development. Under a high carbon growth model, China would also lose competitive advantage in deploying and developing the new resource-efficient technologies on which the world will increasingly depend.

Lord Nicholas Stern, Chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment and Professor of Economics and Government at the London School of Economics and Political Science, said: “As we emerge out of the COVID-19 crisis, we must not deepen another, bigger and more long-lasting crisis – climate change. If a short-term stimulus were to be concentrated mainly on traditional industries and infrastructure, ramping up fossil-fuel consumption, it could lock-in decades of polluting and high-carbon development. The consequences for China and the world would be devastating.”

“China is entering a new era of development with its 14th plan that could transform not only its economy, as it drives towards sustainable, high-income, knowledge-based production, but also the wellbeing, sustainability and prosperity of the rest of the world.”

The reports recommend that China invests in four key capitals in its 14th plan: physical, human, social and natural. Such an approach, the reports say, would offer the strongest and most durable growth opportunities for China as it transitions to a high-income economy, and help it address the major challenges presented by climate change and new technologies.

“The next set of reforms is of special significance, not only for China but also for the world. China, with its size, history and prospects, is inevitably a leader on the global stage, on many dimensions. As currently the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, and a country very vulnerable to climate change, action on climate change is inevitably one of those dimensions.”

“As China leads the world out of the COVID-19 crisis, it has the opportunity to show how urgent recovery measures can also accelerate the transition to the inevitable low-carbon economy of the future,” said Chunping Xie, co-author and Policy Fellow at the Grantham Research Institute.

The reports recommend that China prioritises the right technologies and provides strong policies and the right kind of finance to support technology development. At the same time, they also warn of potential disruptions and risks to labour markets, making it critical for China to ensure a just transition to a low carbon economy that does not leave vulnerable groups behind.

The BRI is described in the reports, as an opportunity to foster clean development in China’s hinterland and among its partners, but they say its scope and definition need to be more clearly defined and underpinned by transparent partnerships with BRI countries.

The population of BRI countries represents around three times that of China, with income per capita around half of China now. The reports find that, if two decades from now, the per capita emissions of BRI countries look like China now, the damage to the world’s future climate would be immense and irreversible.

“China’s development strategy will have a profound effect on the rest of the world, particularly the Belt and Road Initiative countries. The 14th plan, together with the Belt and Road Initiative, is fundamental to the future of China and the world and they must be understood together.”

“World infrastructure will likely double in around 15 years, much of it associated with urban expansion and a large part of that in China. Locking into high-carbon infrastructure, institutions and behaviours will make it costly for China and Belt and Road Initiative countries to retrofit and replace these assets later when they become devalued. China will have missed the opportunity to position itself as a world leader in a changing global economy,” said co-author Dimitri Zenghelis, Senior Visiting Fellow at the Grantham Research Institute, and Project Leader for the Wealth Economy project centred at Cambridge University.

Read the reports:

Paper 1: Challenges and ways forward

Paper 2: Valuing and investing in physical, human, natural and social capital in the 14th Plan


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For further information and interview requests please contact Niamh Brannigan at or +44 (0) 7933997989

Notes for editors


About the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment

Established in 2008 at the London School of Economics and Political Science, the Institute brings together international expertise on economics, as well as finance, geography, the environment, international development and political economy to establish a world-leading centre for policy-relevant research, teaching and training in climate change and the environment. It is funded by the Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment.

About Energy Foundation China

Energy Foundation China is a professional grant-making charitable organization registered in California, U.S. The Foundation’s vision is to achieve prosperity and a safe climate through sustainable energy. Its mission is to achieve green house gas emissions neutrality, world-class air quality, energy access, and green growth through transforming energy and optimising economic structure.

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