Low Carbon Economy, 2011, 2, 54-61
doi:10.4236/lce.2011.22009 Published Online June 2011 (http://www.SciRP.org/journal/lce)
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. LCE
Public Awareness and Performance Relating to the
Implementation of a Low-Carbon Economy in
China: A Case Study from Zhengzhou
Liping Chen, David Taylor
School of Natural Sciences, Trinity College, University of Dublin, Dublin, Ireland.
Email: maggiehouse@gmail.com
Received February 11th, 2011; revised March 8th, 2011; accepted March 27th, 2011.
This paper aims to examine levels of awareness and performance relating to the promotion of a Low-carbon economy
(LCE) among the general pu blic in Zhengzhou, China. The data and information used were derived from 300 question-
naires distributed randomly among households in the west, south and north urban districts of Zhengazhou. The results
indicate a combination of high awareness with poor understanding of LCE programmes among respondents, with the
poor understanding probably due to a shortage of appropriate information from trusted sources and shortcomings in
education. Respondents generally showed positive attitudes toward pro-environmental actions, such as refusing to use
plastic bags, waste recycling, water and energy conservation. Apart from regulation and policies, they considered edu-
cation and economic incentives as effective mechanisms to promote LCE implementation. Overall those consulted re-
sponded fa vourably towards the prospect of LCE , with some reservations. Results of the study, though limited, sugges t
that the general public in China has the potential to be a facilitator of environmental improv ements in the country.
Keywords: Low-Carbon Economy, China, The General Public, Sustainable Development, Climate Change, Awareness
1. Introduction
Climate change is likely to remain a pressing challenge
to human society throughout the 21st century, until con-
certed actions are taken to prevent further global warm-
ing-induced effects and to achieve sustainable develop-
ment. Although the application of science will no doubt
be an important component of these concerted actions,
reducing climate change impacts will be largely contin-
gent on the active cooperation of people in the imple-
mentation of strategies aimed at mitigation [1]. Thus
solving the problem of climate change, despite often be-
ing posed as a challenge to politicians, scientists and en-
gineers will also require active engagement of the gen-
eral public.
Emissions of greenhouse gases, notably CO2, to the
atmosphere are widely regarded as an important forcer of
climate change [2]. Implementation of a Low-carbon
economy (LCE) has emerged as a possible solution at
regional, national and international levels to the problem
of balancing the demands of combating climate change
with those of maintaining economic growth and alleviat-
ing poverty. LCE refers to an economy that has a mini-
mal output of greenhouse gases into the biosphere, aim-
ing to combine th e highly efficient use of existing energy
resources with the exploitation of new clean energy sup-
plies (e.g. renewable energy sources, such as wind and
waves). LCE can therefore be summarised as 3L, i.e. low
energy consumption, low pollution, low emission, and
3H, i.e. high energy utilization, high efficiency and high
benefits [3]. China, as a major producer of greenhouse
gases, has ensured that LCE is at the core of its respon se
to agreements reached at the 15th Conference of the Par-
ties (COP) United Nations Framework Convention on
Climate Change (UNFCC) meeting in Copenhagen in
2009, and is now actively promoting LCE through the
mass media and other channels for disseminating public
information. The China Council for International Coop-
eration on Environment and Development [4] defined
LCE as a new economic, technological and societal sys-
tem that can achieve its ultimate goal of reducing GHGs
emission, while maintaining economic and social devel-
opment. According to [5], the overall aim of LCE in
China is to replace carbon-based fuels through technol-
ogy innovation as part of the country’s strategy for sus-
Public Awareness and Performance Relating to the Implementation of a Low-Carbon Economy in China: 55
A Case Study from Zhengzhou
tainable development.
Given continually increasing energy demand and a
lack of availability of technologies that can be deployed
immediately on a large scale, China’s emissions will in-
evitably continue to climb in th e next decade, even under
the most ambitious mitigation scenarios [6,7]. The chal-
lenges to establishing LCE in China are likely to be dif-
ferent from those faced in economically more advanced
countries where the population has greater familiarity
with the implementation of environmentally-friendly po-
licies, such as the UK and the US. Finding the balance
between enhancing living standards through increased
consumption, while at the same time reducing carbon
emissions, is the fundamental challenge to the establish-
ment of LCE in China. Barriers to successful implemen-
tation include the pressure to construct large infrastruc-
ture projects, in part to maintain competitive advantage
in China, a continued heavy reliance on coal as a source
of energy, inefficient energy production and distribution
systems, and a continuous and increasing pressure to
raise living standards in many p arts of the coun try [6,8,9 ].
Other factors that are likely to hinder the roll out of LCE
include the high cost of new technologies, low financial
incentives in industries that remain competitive because
of low salaries and a lack of inter and intra-sector col-
laboration. However, embarking on a LCE pathway is
also likely to bring opportunities to China, particularly
through enhancing the competitiveness of key sectors in
the economy internationally [8]. Moreover, failure to
achieve the transition to LCE would certainly jeopardise
China’s ability to d evelop in a sustainable way and lik ely
weaken the country’s position in th e international carbon
market [5,6,8].
The political will may currently exist in China to fa-
cilitate the development of LCE-related policies. How-
ever, political will does not necessary transform into ef-
fective implementation. A top-down approach has char-
acterised policy-making and implementation in modern
China to date, and is a legacy of central planning. Con-
sequently both market-based solutions and public in-
volvement are neither well-developed nor adequately
integrated into development planning [9]. Moreover, an
integrated bottom-up policy, combining the engagement
of stakeholders with stringent enforcement of policies, is
essential if the challenges of LCE implementation are to
be met [9,10]. Research in economically advanced parts
of the world in the last two to three decades has confirm-
ed the important ro le for public p articipation in achieving
sustainable development goals [e.g.,11-13], particularly
at local levels [14]. This is because effective implemen-
tation of environmental policies at lo cal level requires an
appreciation of the behaviour patterns – and possible
barriers to changes in these – of individuals [15]. More-
over, [16] revealed that public awareness is essential if a
transformation to LCE is to be successfully brought
about, while [17] indicated that behavioural changes
among the general public were at least as important in
moving towards a LCE as technological innovation and
environmental management.
A lack of public support h as been cited as a reason for
problems in implementing environment-friendly policies
in China in the past [9,10,18]. Although there has been
an increased interest in public awareness towards LCE,
research targeting the environmental behaviour of mem-
bers of the general public in Chin a has tended to focus on
marketing or on finding ways to increase consumption
[9]. Furthermore, no studies have been carried out evalu-
ating public awareness of LCE, and the reasons that un-
derpin LCE, and the likely consequences of moving to-
wards a LCE.
The current research seeks to address a gap in under-
standing concerning the attitudes and behaviours of the
general public towards LCE in an economically rapidly
developing part of China. Focusing on Zhengzhou, the
capital city of Henan, the research that underpins this
paper was guided by the question: to what extent are lev-
els of knowledge, understanding and willingness to act
among the residents of Zhengzhou in China likely to fa-
cilitate or constrain su ccessful implementati o n of policies
aimed at achieving LCE? Results of the research are in-
tended to appeal to environmental policy makers and
planners at local and regional levels in China, and to
academics more generally.
2. Methodology
2.1. Research Area
Zhengzhou is the capital of Henan province in central
China (Figure 1). Construction and manufacturing, in-
cluding aluminum processing, food products, energy,
automobile and machinery industries, are the main eco-
nomic activities in the city. During the 11th Five-Year
Plan (2006-2010) period, a total carbon intensity reduc-
tion per GDP of 17.3% was achieved by 2009 (2.3%
higher than the initial target) [19]. Zhengzhou was cho-
sen for study as an economically rapidly developing city
that has a large and quickly increasing urban population
but still low (compared with many other cities in China)
per capita GDP. Zhengzhou can therefore be regarded as
something as a microcosm for much of China, where
environmental concerns can be outweighed in the pol-
icy-making and implementation process by a pressing
need to alleviate poverty.
2.2. Questionnaire-Based Survey
A target group of 300 households w as randomly selected
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. LCE
Public Awareness and Performance Relating to the Implementation of a Low-Carbon Economy in China:
A Case Study from Zhengzhou
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. LCE
Figure 1. Location map of the study area : (a) China, (b) He nan province, and (c) Zhengzhou urban area.
from the north, west, and south parts of urban Zhengzhou.
The east region was excluded from the survey because of
the large amount of construction taking place there, and
consequently the relatively low number of households.
The questionnaire administered comprised ten questions
divided into three sections. The First section evaluated
respondents’ awareness of and attitude s toward LCE and
GHGs emission reduction targets. The second section
was designed to uncover respondents’ understanding and
perceptions of LCE. The Third section investigated re-
spondents’ practical performance and views of LCE pol-
icy instruments. Figure 2 illustrates the research frame-
A pilot of the questionnaire, comprising 20 questions,
was administered from 17th June to 20th June, 2010.
Based on responses to the pilot questionnaire, socio-de-
mographic questions were removed, as respondents were
often unwilling to answer questions relating to their per-
sonal economic standing. The full survey was carried out
over remainder of the summer of 2010 and involved the
random selection of 100 households in each of three parts
of Zhengzhou. All questionnaires were distributed by
hand to individual householders in their home. The in-
vestigators introduced the general background of this
survey to respondents and asked permission to conduct
follow-up interviews if needed. The survey had a re-
sponse rate of 57%: 157 completed questionnaires were
collected, out of a total of 300 distributed.
3. Results and Discussions
As is evident from the results presented in Table 1, a
large majority of respondents were familiar with LCE.
Furthermore, attitudes towards implementation of LCE
were generally positive, with almost all respondents
agreeing to the necessity to implement LCE in China.
Most of the respondents claimed that their awareness
came from the media (newspapers and magazines, fol-
lowed by TV), with only a relatively small proportion
obtaining information on LCE from public education
programmes and discussions with friends and other peo-
ple. The reliance on mass media as a source of informa-
tion on environmental issues in China is in line with
findings from previous research [18,20,21]. When being
asked the importance of implementing LCE, many re-
spondents recognised the need for China, as a major
producer of GHG emissions, to take seriously its respon-
sibilities to act to mitigate global climate change. Many
respondents acknowledged that LCE would prevent pol-
Public Awareness and Performance Relating to the Implementation of a Low-Carbon Economy in China: 57
A Case Study from Zhengzhou
Figure 2. Methodological framework adopted in the research.
lution and protect environment, combat global warming,
which was consistent with the domestic sustainable de-
velopment strategy and would likely reduce the fre-
quency of natural disasters. Furthermore more than half
of respondents felt that LCE implementation would lead
to improved living conditions and increase the share of
natural resources per capita.
With regard to personal actions taken to reduce waste
and lower carbon emissions, a large majority of respon-
dents already refused to use plastic bags and disposable
products (such as chopsticks, plastic food containers,
too thpicks etc.), while more than 60% frequ ently engaged
in recycling and were willing to or had purchased green
products. More than 50% of respondents conserved water
and electricity, while for more than 40% LCE had be-
come a topic of conversation with friends and relatives.
Despite generally displaying high awareness and en-
gaging in positive actions, concern regarding the devel-
opment impacts and economic costs was evident. Thus,
approximately 30% of respondents felt that LCE would
be detrimental to economic growth, 18% were concerned
about the high price of low carbon products, while a
similar proportion expressed worry over the cost of the
transformation process (Table 2). Others opined that
LCE was unsuitable for present-day China, because they
thought implementation of LCE would impact negatively
industrial and manufacturing development, while a small
number felt that LCE would reduce their standard of liv-
Concerns about the consequences of implementing en-
vironmental policies are not uncommon, and may stem
from mistrust or misinformation, a poor level of under-
standing of information that is available or a shortage or
absence of information from trusted sources. For exam-
ple, Defra UK [16] interviewed a range of low-carbon
related professional bodies and found a low level of un-
derstanding of LCE issues. Interviewees, who considered
LCE as a means of creating potential business benefits,
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. LCE
Public Awareness and Performance Relating to the Implementation of a Low-Carbon Economy in China:
58 A Case Study from Zhengzhou
Table 1. Survey results of Question 1 to Question 8.
Survey Questions Percentage
Q1. Have you heard of Low-carbon e c on omy
Never heard 8
Familiar 87
Very familiar 5
Q2. Do you think it is necessary to promote LCE
in China?
Unnecessary 2
Necessary 98
Q3. What would be the future of LCE in China?
Optimistic 62
Pessimistic 9
Hard to tell 28
Q4. From which information channels that you
heard of LCE?
News, radio and TV 42
Public education programmes 28
Advertisements 29
Newspaper and magazine 57
Discussion with friends 14
Q5. The world ranking of China as a carbon
No.1 41
No.2 20
No.3 26
No.4 5
Not sure 19
Q6. Should China be responsible for carbon re-
Yes 95
No 5
Q7. What low carbon actions you take in daily
Refuse to use plastic bags 90
Refuse to use disposable products 80
Reduce waste and recycling 64
Conserve electricity, water, etc. 50
Purchase low carbon products 61
Turn off electronic devices 48
Discuss LCE with friends 42
Natural disasters prevention 61
Q8. Why do you think it is necessary to promote
Global warming 71
Better living conditions 54
Economic growth 32
Sustainable development 66
Environmental protection 81
Low energy utilisation rate 54
Low per capita share of natural r esources 44
Natural disaster prevention 61
Table 2. Survey results of Question 9 to Question 10.
Survey Question 9 and 10 Percentage
Q9. Which mechanisms would play an im-
portant role in promoting LCE?
Laws, policies and regulations 54
Technology innovation 58
Renewable energy promotion 57
Economic disincentives (e .g. fines and taxes) 20
Q10. Why do you think it is unnecessary to
promote LCE?
High capital cost 17
LCE would affect the current living standar ds 5
The price of Low-carbon products is high 18
LCE is “Poor Economy” 17
LCE would limit the industria l d ev el o pment 9
LCE would limit the economic growth 27
were confused with the interchangeable use of terms
such as sustainable, green, eco and environmental. More-
over, research has exposed the weaknesses in the idea
that the solution is simply more information (the infor-
mation-deficit model), in particular its inability to influ-
ence directly the behaviour of the target audience (often
the general public) [1,22-24]. However, a shortage of
appropriate information from trusted sources is often
seen as a major factor limiting behavioural change and
therefore the effective implementation of environment-
friendly policies. The current study revealed that present
levels of understanding of LCE could potentially under-
mine successful implementation of LCE. As has been
found previously, appropriate information from trusted
sources can be a necessary component of any transfor-
mation towards more pro-environmental actions [24-26].
Pro-environmental actions regarding lifestyles and the
products and services the public consume directly and
indirectly impact the environment and personal well-
being [27]. Along the transformation path towards a so-
ciety characterised by sustainable consumption, finding
the balance between limiting unsustainable behaviours
and maintaining freedom of choice is a major challenge
[6]. Finding this balance requires recognition of the range
of behavioural and structural factors, combined with in-
centives and punitive actions, which are likely to be re-
quired [1,27]. For example, mechanisms that address an
individual’s internal motivations for inaction or poor
environmental behaviour might be helpful [1,22], such as
market-based mechanisms or economic tools. According
to this study and others [26,30,31] the general public is
willing, for example, to switch to a more fuel-efficient
car or to retrofit their home with solar energy when en-
opyright © 2011 SciRes. LCE
Public Awareness and Performance Relating to the Implementation of a Low-Carbon Economy in China: 59
A Case Study from Zhengzhou
couragement incentives (e.g. green subsidies, grants,
funds and reward schemes) are available. By contrast, a
strong dislike of fiscal and monetary disincentives (e.g.
taxes, compensation and fines) is commonly expressed.
However, despite the obvious challenges major recent
changes in environmental actions in China are evident,
and this holds promise for the future. For example, two
years after implementation of a ban on domestic plastic
bags in 2008, 90% of respondents in the current study
said they refused to use plastic b ag. Th is finding is in lin e
with a study from southern China where 70% of urban
respondents now use their own recyclable shopping bags
[28]. Outside of China the situation is similar. In Ireland,
for example, a tax on plastic bags cut usage by 90%
within a matter of weeks of its introduction, while at the
same time enriching the state’s finances, yielding over
12.7 million Euros in 2003 [29].
Similarly impressive changes have been made since
the first introduction of the National Waste Recycling
Programme in China a decade or so ago. 65% of respon-
dents in the current study maintained that they recycle
their household waste; 52% of Tianjing residents recog-
nise waste recycling as their daily must-do action [32];
86% of Guangzhou residents recycle their household
waste on a weekly basis; and 70 % of Ningbo residents
participate in the waste sorting programme and expressed
a willingness to attend waste sorting classes [25,33].
Changes in consumption are also evident, with the pur-
chasing of green products increasingly popular [25,28,
32]. However, the price of green products is normally
higher than standard consumer items (i.e. 15-30% more
expensive, generally), and therefore beyond what many
can afford [34].
Respondents in the current study generally displayed a
high level of trust in the government, particularly with
regard to technology inn ovation and education provision .
During the past three decades, environmental policies in
China have evolved and deepened at local, regional and
national levels. The focus of policies changed from pol-
lution control to prevention, while management style
evolved from reliance on executive power to the use of
encouragement-based tools [30]. As a rapidly emerging
industrial and agricultural powerhouse with a growing
demand for resources and with a population that is still,
in many parts of the country, burdened with poverty, the
challenges to implementing a LCE in China are perhaps
greater than for any other nation. A close working rela-
tionship between the Government, industry and the gen-
eral public is likely to be essential to the successful im-
plementation of LCE. The evidence presented here, albeit
from a limited study, suggests that the general public is
unlikely to imped e roll out of LCE in China. More likely
they have the potential to be strong agents for environ-
mental improvements in the country, including imple-
mentati on of LCE.
4. Conclusions
The current research focusing on a sample of residents of
Zhengzhou was stimulated by an interest in determining
the extent to which the awareness and attitudes of the
Chinese public are likely to facilitate or constrain move-
ment of the economy to one less dependent on fossil fu-
The findings suggest that participants generally dis-
play a high awareness towards LCE while their under-
standing and knowledge of key issues is relative poorly
developed, which is possibly derived from the lack of
information. However, rather than being unknowledge-
able about environmental problems and resistant to sus-
tainable consumption, respondents showed a strong will-
ingness to learn and take action s aimed at facilitating the
transition to a LCE. Pro-environmental actions that al-
ready occur include refusing to use plastic bags, waste
recycling, green products purchasing and water/electri-
city conservation. In response to the question “which
LCE promotion measure are you in favour of ?” The data
demonstrate that the public generally are pro technology
innovation, educational provisions, and encouragement-
based market mechanisms (such as green subsidy and
funds), while displaying far less satisfaction with eco-
nomically punitive measures (such as fines and taxes).
Furthermore, respondents expressed strong trust in the
government and acknowledged the efforts that govern-
ment put so far in terms of local environmental protec-
tion. Overall respondents were in favour of a transition
towards LCE, while retaining some reservations, notably
concerning the development costs. The general public in
China may therefore become a strong agent for environ-
mental improvements in the country, including the im-
plementation of LCE.
Participants were highly concerned of their personal
details and displayed strong reluctance to answer per-
sonal detail questio ns such as “Wh at is your job? ” “What
is your education al level?” “What is you r general income
per month?” Age, gender, occupation and education are
important correlates with opinions on environmental pro-
tection issues [31,35]. Notwithstand ing this, socio-demo-
graphic information questions were removed from the
questionnaire administered in the full survey. This wea-
kened the survey, but was a necessary step. Further in-
vestigation of socio-demographic information as a basis
for more detailed and nuanced examinations of environ-
mental attitudes and actio ns in China is, however, highly
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. LCE
Public Awareness and Performance Relating to the Implementation of a Low-Carbon Economy in China:
60 A Case Study from Zhengzhou
5. Acknowledgements
This study is supported by Trinity College Dublin. The
authors would like to thank Dr. Carlos Rocha and Pro-
fessor Anna Davies for their very supportive actions
during the course of the research that underpins this pa-
per. The author would like to thank the supervisor Pro-
fessor David Taylor and the entire family for their genu-
ine love, continuou s support, and endless encouragement.
Thanks are also due to the people of Zhengzhou for their
willingness to participate in the research, and to the re-
search assistants for their assistance in gathering infor-
mation, and to the reviewers of an earlier version of this
paper for their highly constructive comments.
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A Case Study from Zhengzhou
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