BioRisk 9: 1-37, doi: 10.3897/biorisk.9.6105
China in the anthropocene: Culprit, victim or last best hope for a global ecological civilisation?
Joachim Spangenberg

The anthropocene is the age where human influences are determining the development of the planet’s ecosystems and thus the bio-physical basis of future human civilisations. Today China has become the world’s largest economy and its worst polluter with per capita greenhouse gas emissions surpassing the EU average, the world’s largest consumer of all kinds of resources. Even regarding the aggregate contribution to climate change (historical emission residues included), called the climate debt, China has not yet, but will be most probably climbing the top position rather soon.

At the same time China is the world’s largest victim of environmental change, including air and soil pollution, water and land scarcity, biodiversity loss and climate change.

Thus not only slowing down the increase but reducing emissions should be a top priority for China, and it is: the government has taken some bold steps. China is the world’s largest investor in renewable energies, has the largest afforestation program, and leads the world in reducing carbon dioxide emission reduction. As the largest polluter it has extraordinary opportunities to improve the global state of the environment – is it the world’s last best hope for establishing a global ecological civilisation? Some implications regarding the Chinese environmental policy are discussed, some strengths highlighted and some weaknesses identified.

However, despite their magnitude, the efforts–and in particular their implementation–are not yet sufficient. We suggest three additional steps which could help China to begin reducing its climate debt within a couple of decades, define a long term perspective for policy planning and adjust its growth model to the challenges of the anthropocene.