Jing Cao

Jing Cao

Associate Professor, Department of Economics, School of Economics and Management, Tsinghua University
Alumna (Ph.D. and Visiting Scholar) and Collaborator, Harvard-China Project

Researcher Spotlight (first published 2019): For Professor Jing CAO, the Harvard-China Project is an anomaly in higher education. “Typically in [a] university, everybody has their own grant they’re working on, and maybe only annually people can sit together and discuss their work,” says Jing. “But here it’s very different — we have a very cooperative environment.” That atmosphere, she notes, enables the greater mission. “We’re practically and cohesively combining all of these fields — science and economics and law and public health and public policy — to do interdisciplinary research.”

Jing’s work with the China Project has long roots. While working on her qualifying paper at the Harvard Kennedy School (HKS), she consulted with Harvard-China Project Executive Director Chris Nielsen and faculty vice-chair Prof. Dale Jorgenson, who connected her to research on coupling top-down computable general equilibrium model with bottom-up electricity model to evaluate environmental policies. “So that was the first research that I did with the China Project,” says Jing. “And in the end, it become a very important chapter for my Ph.D. dissertation” at HKS, with other projects drawing on both economic and engineering streams of the Harvard-China Project forming additional chapters. Jing is now an Associate Professor at the School of Economics and Management of Tsinghua University, and an active member, close collaborator, and frequent visiting scholar of the Harvard-China Project.

Her recent focus has been carbon pricing, building and running simulations in advance of China’s proposed carbon trading market, set to open in 2020. “It will start with the electricity sector first, and then possibly extend to cement, aluminum, steel, and other sectors,” says Jing. “So in our simulations, we try to incorporate all these different options.” But even those simulations are limited in scope — accounting for maybe half of the country’s carbon emissions, she notes, but not including impacts from residential or smaller-scale manufacturing sectors. “So we proposed to the Chinese government that it’s likely that — in the future — we can apply a hybrid policy, and combine the national carbon trading with a carbon tax.” Jing is also interested in examining the impact of carbon trading on carbon emission mitigation, and is gathering data from five Chinese cities and two provinces that are in the midst of a carbon trading pilot. “We’re looking at the firm-level data,” she says, “to see whether they are responding to the pilot policy.”

True to the collaborative model, Jing is also working with her Harvard-China Project colleagues to analyze design features of the forthcoming carbon trading market, hoping to determine what model might best suit the country. “We want to try to figure out,” she says, “how do these results combine with our simulation results and the lessons we learn from the pilot programs.” It’s a perfect illustration of the benefits of the Harvard-China Project, she notes: The most important takeaways will come not from a single study, but from a merging of research streams across different fields.

(Written by Dan Morrell)

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