Voluntary Agreement Examples: Asia

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With economic power expected to continue to shift towards Asia over the course of the 21st century, the contribution to climate change of states like China becomes ever more important.  Voluntary agreements have been embraced by East Asian countries in recent years, especially by Japan, but also by emerging superpowers like China.  In China especially, globalization is a significant issue.  One question is to what extent foreign ownership, especially of manufacturing firms in China, increases the pressure for self-regulation by firms owned by multinationals in developed countries. 

As a poor country, China has been reluctant to embrace mandatory instruments to curb carbon emissions; nevertheless, improving energy efficiency is now a national priority for the Chinese government, and voluntary agreements have become more important because they sidestep the political confrontations inherent in mandatory policy.  Pilot projects to improve efficiency have been staged in Nanjing and at steel mills in Shandong Province.  These deals also rely on international cooperation, with the United States and the Netherlands providing technical assistance. 

Japan has also embraced voluntary agreements, with a focus on local administration and usually involving the manufacturing sector.  The Japanese experience, despite being “voluntary,” has often emphasized the soft power of the government to nudge (or possibly coerce) companies into meeting stated environmental goals.  This theme of cooperation and bargaining between business and government is familiar to Japan.  In this context, the bargaining power of specific firms, usually a function of both size and political connections, has a strong influence on the voluntary agreements themselves.  Pressure from citizens' groups on local firms to reduce pollution has also been important historically, but this was usually in the context of localized pollution—so its applicability to global pollutants like carbon emissions may be less significant.  More broadly, Japan has undertaken a national scheme of voluntary carbon dioxide reduction in the airline industry.