China's investment decisions will shape the global market for coal in the coming decades, putting substantial power over global change mitigation in the hands of few actors. While the availability of cost-competitive alternatives grows, China’s coal sector remains steadfast in pursuing new investments.

In their paper, “Sensitive Intervention Points in China’s Coal Phaseout”, researchers Ryan Rafaty and Bas Heerma van Voss explore whether there is a reasonable, politically sensitive intervention capable of substantially altering the present course and quickly, in a manner than benefits both China and the world.

Inspired by the complex systems approach to political strategy adumbrated in Farmer et al. (2019), the authors aimed to identify ‘sensitive intervention points’ (SIPs) – where relatively minor but well-targeted interventions can generate major behavioural changes and nonlinear shifts towards achieving climate mitigation goals – but tailored to China's idiosyncratic institutional context and capable of dramatically altering administrative and investment behaviours at the system-level to stimulate a Chinese coal phaseout.

They found that China can single-handedly make relatively minor changes that drastically reorient itself – and the world – onto a developmental path consistent with the ambitious climate change mitigation commitments under the Paris Agreement.

Also read the author's OpEd in South China Morning Post.