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Climate-Indifference or Actions Louder than Words? Chinese Youth and Climate Change

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Against the backdrop of the Chinese government’s peak emissions target (for the year 2030) and a carbon-neutral vision (for the year 2060; announced at the 2020 UN Climate Ambition Summit), Chinese domestic discussions around climate change have picked up pace. As part of this debate, an increasing number of young Chinese people are actively trying to bring attention, support and engagement to the issue of climate change. Since young people have been recognized as drivers of climate action in many parts of the world, questions remain regarding their role in China. In how far do Chinese young people care about climate change relative to other pressing topics? What strategies do they identify as useful when it comes to youth participation in climate change matters? Compared to an abundance of macro-level policy analyses, there are only a few Chinese studies on youth and climate change. Therefore, the remainder of this article will take stock of the relevant domestic Chinese discourse and ask some basic questions regarding its portrayal of youth in climate change: What is the definition of Chinese “youth” in these discussions? What role are young people thought to play (or could theoretically play) through actions addressing climate change? What can domestic surveys and studies tell us about how Chinese youth interpret and address the threats posed by climate change in their daily lives?


Over the past years, Chinese scholars and social organizations have published a few exploratory discussions of the above questions. These, however, mostly focused on young people’s understanding of climate change, while neglecting questions regarding young people’s role in mitigating greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This paper reviews the main findings and conclusions of several such studies regarding 1) their theoretical scope and definitions of the term “youth”; 2) how young people’s climate change awareness is measured and interpreted and 3) what potential leeway for climate related participation and actions by Chinese youth is identified.

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Heinrich Boell Stiftung Beijing Representative Office
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