China Emission Reduction Challenges

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Leading Emission Reduction Challenges: (a) Rising consumer and/or industrial demand for energy intensive products and services; (b) Dependence on fossil fuels as energy sources, especially coal and oil

Current Level of Greenhouse Gas Emissions

China has experienced rapid economic development, urbanization and industrialization for over three decades since its commencement of Reform and Opening Up Policy. However, undergirding the transformative changes is an ever-increasing energy demand heavily dominated by fossil fuels (especially coal). According to a 2015 scholarly report, 90% of China’s carbon emission derives from various fossil fuels; in terms of industrial sectors, manufacturing and power generation are jointly responsible for 85% of China’s total carbon emission in 2012. This massive energy consumption has not only lead to enormous carbon emission, but has also caused notorious air pollution. In February 2015, a documentary named Under the Dome raised public awareness on China’s energy consumption and environment protection. Thus, a reduction in greenhouse gas emission is intertwined with improving air quality, both of which demand effective energy reform.

Emission Reduction Challenges

The greatest challenge China faces in reducing its greenhouse gas emissions is the high energy demand driven by its rapidly developing economy. Currently, China accounts for about one quarter of global carbon emissions annually. Consequently, China has been a key focus in international emission mitigation efforts.

In fact, China has made great progress in energy reform during the 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015). According to official statistics, China has met its target in coal and energy (equivalent to 5 billion tons coal consumption cap). Coal consumption reached its plateau for the first time in 2014; also, in terms of clean energy, China has been a leading investor in wind and solar energy, overtaking Germany as the NO.1 in solar capacity. In March 2016, China laid out its policy initiatives to address the challenges of sustainable development in the 13th Five-Year Plan. The new target is an 18% reduction in carbon-intensity from its 2015 level, and a 15% reduction in energy intensity. If this is achieved, it can be a great step towards meeting its Paris Agreement pledges.

When China’s economic growth slows down to 6.5% annually, it is probable that its energy demand will not be as high as before. Still, challenges remain. How to balance its economic growth and environmental sustainability will be the primary policy concern in its Five-Year Plan.

–Submitted by Climate Scorecard Country Manager Jingli Liu


Useful Resources

See “China’s Carbon Emission Report 2015”,

YouTube link:, Under the Dome was filmed by Chai Jing, a famous CCTV journalist. In Feb 2015, this documentary attracted more than 0.1 billion viewings on China’s video streaming websites. It gives a good overview of China’s energy sector and demands for energy reform. Given its high popularity, Chinese government banned it later.

For a more comprehensive view of Chinese progress in renewable energy, see

For a detailed version of Chinese 13th Five-Year Plan (Chinese version), see Chapter 46 of the Report


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