CAO Jing: Proposing a Brighter Future

From the streets of New York City to the classrooms at Tsinghua, in newspapers and on television and the Internet, it’s impossible to escape mention of the crucial issue of global climate change.


In that regard, it is no secret that China is determined to be a global leader not only in creating clean energy technology, but also by making a substantial positive impact on the global climate situation. As a result, it comes as no surprise that Tsinghua faculty members are assuming a proactive role in what is one of the most critical concerns of the 21st century. This is exemplified by School of Economics and Management Professor CAO Jing, who recently saw her latest proposal on climate change published by Harvard University’s world-renowned John F. Kennedy School of Government’s Belfer Center for Science and Technology.


Even though each country views climate change from its own perspective, which creates an extremely challenging and complex situation, it is imperative to reach a world-wide consensus on how to manage this vital matter. This view inspired Professor CAO to develop her research proposal, entitled, “Beyond Copenhagen: Reconciling International Fairness, Economic Development, and Climate Protection.” The paper proposes what is known as a “burden-sharing rule,” which is intended to “produce a fair distribution of burdens across countries while also (a) giving priority to economic development and concerns about wealth inequality and (b) achieving emission reductions consistent with holding the expected increase in global average temperature to 2 degrees Celsius.”


“I tried to link the importance of cumulative [carbon] emissions with post-Kyoto climate change architecture from a developing country perspective,” said Professor Cao, who graduated from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government in 2007 with a Ph.D. in public policy. “Ultimately, I built on the responsibility-capacity idea of burden-sharing by using more recent and more updated data.”


Now that her paper has been published, Professor CAO is busy designing carbon tax policies for the Chinese government. This entails building a dynamic computable general model to analyze the impact of such policies and links major results from the model simulation to household income/expenditure survey data.


“This allows me to estimate how such a policy would affect rich people and poor people differently and how such carbon tax policies should be combined with other tax reform,” Professor Cao explained. “It also gives a better understanding of how to achieve economic efficiency and mitigate negative distributional effects.”


This project is not the only one Professor CAO is undertaking. She is also co-authoring several chapters of a book that will be published by MIT Press within two years. In addition, she is a Research Fellow for the Center for China in the World Economy. Whether you are examining the impressive results of her work or merely speaking with her, Professor CAO’s passion for asserting a positive impact on the global climate situation is obvious. This passion emerged in 2000 when, as a master’s degree student in environmental science at Peking University, she discerned a captivating link between climate change and local pollution control: co-benefits of climate change mitigation (action to decrease the intensity of radiative forcing in order to reduce the potential effects of global warming).    


“Mitigation actions will not only reduce CO2 levels but will also reduce TSP, SO2 and other local pollutants which lead to severe public health problems at the local level,” said Professor CAO,  a native of Anhui Province. “Even though it is quite costly, it is in China’s best interests to simultaneously reduce both emissions. Building on this research ultimately was the start of my first report, and I used this report for my writing sample when I applied to Harvard for my Ph.D.”


When not engaged in research, Professor CAO derives tremendous joy from being a professor at Tsinghua. She currently teaches undergraduate-level environmental and resource economics, graduate-level energy and environmental economics, and managerial economics to IMBA students.

“I like to meet with students and chat with them about their lives and careers because there is always something fresh to learn,” said Professor CAO, who received awards for excellence in teaching in 2008 and 2009. “I feel very lucky because I can try interesting research and build relationships with my students while still being able to balance my career and my family life. Tsinghua provides a wonderful environment because it has the best students, best research environment and best facilities.”


And that will enable Professor CAO to continue being a prominent voice in the discussion about global climate change. (By Neil Schwartz)