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China’s innovative carbon coin scheme engages households in its ambitious climate change fight, encouraging sustainable practices through rewards.

In a bold move to combat climate change, China is turning to its citizens, encouraging them to participate in reducing carbon emissions. At a newly built metro station in Shenzhen, the local government is promoting "carbon coins" - a novel concept where commuters can earn rewards like shopping vouchers and travel cards by engaging in eco-friendly activities. This initiative, dubbed the "Carbon Road for Everyone," incentivizes public transportation usage and is among many similar projects across China urging citizens to adopt greener lifestyles.

The "carbon inclusion" programs are an extension of the Communist Party's efforts to involve all societal sectors in transforming China into a carbon-neutral nation by 2060. With China as the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases, these initiatives are crucial. Remarkably, over half of China's emissions, surpassing 10 billion metric tons annually, are attributed to household activities, as reported by the China Academy of Sciences in 2021.

China's top climate envoy, Xie Zhenhua, emphasized the significance of carbon inclusion platforms in mobilizing public participation in low-carbon and zero-carbon activities. These programs are designed to eventually integrate into the national emissions trading system, allowing the generation of credits that can offset industrial emissions.

Originating in Guangdong province in 2015, China's carbon inclusion ambitions have since expanded nationwide. These programs utilize personal data, such as step counts and public transport usage, to generate carbon coins. Additionally, banks are experimenting with "personal carbon account" systems, where carbon points can influence credit ratings, as seen in the People's Bank of China's pilot scheme in Quzhou.

"Carbon inclusion is a huge platform and an effective way to mobilise the public to practice low-carbon, zero-carbon and negative-carbon activities," said Xie Zhenhua, China's top climate envoy, during the launch of a government carbon inclusion committee in August.

Internationally, the concept of personal carbon trading has been explored, with pilot schemes in Finland and Australia's Norfolk Island, and a study commissioned by the British environment ministry in 2006. Singapore is currently running a program that rewards efficient electricity users with tokens exchangeable for shopping vouchers.

However, China's approach is distinguished by its scale and integration into a broader carbon credit system, according to Reuters. A significant challenge is quantifying carbon dioxide emissions reductions from diverse human behaviors, requiring reliable verification methods. The proliferation of various schemes has led to confusion and inconsistency, as noted by Zhang Xin, vice-chairman of the environment ministry's carbon inclusion committee.

Critics have raised concerns that these schemes might shift the burden of emission cuts from industries to households, potentially alienating individuals from climate action. Additionally, there are fears about the potential for state interference in personal choices and the risk of these voluntary schemes becoming compulsory.

Despite these challenges, China's carbon inclusion initiatives have seen some success, with millions of users registering. For instance, the Shenzhen program reported 14.6 million users since August 2022, contributing to a reduction of 720,000 metric tons in emissions. As China hosts the upcoming COP28 meetings in Dubai, the world will be watching its innovative strategies in tackling climate change.

Eunice is a sustainability writer whose passion is sharing accessible eco-friendly practices with GreenCitizen's global readership. She enjoys birdwatching during her downtime, often deriving inspiration from nature's resilience. An enthusiastic cyclist, she is also an ardent advocate of eco-friendly transport.

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