ChinaFAQs: Key "Frequently Asked Questions"

For an even briefer summary of China’s current actions on climate and clean energy and the implications for the United States, click here.

Table of Contents:

  1. Energy and Emissions
  2. Renewable and Alternative Energy
  3. Energy Efficiency
  4. Forestry
  5. Industry
  6. Transportation
  7. Coal for Electricity
  8. Carbon Capture and Storage
  9. Measurement and Compliance
  10. Development, Economics and Energy
  11. Policy and Governance
  12. Trade and Competitiveness
  13. US-China Cooperation

Energy and Emissions

Q: Is China the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter?
A: China overtook the United States in 2006 as the world’s leading annual emitter of greenhouse gases. China now produces around 25% of annual global CO2 emissions, ahead of the United States, which produces around 16%. See the data at the EIA…

Q: How do China’s per capita greenhouse gas emissions compare to the United States?
A: China’s per capita greenhouse gas emissions are a bit more than one-third of U.S. levels due to its large population (currently about 1.3 billion) and high rate of poverty (almost one-third of the population earns less than $2 a day). In 2011, the average American produced 17.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide; the average Chinese, just 6.5 tons. See the data at the EIA…

Q: What are the sources of China’s greenhouse gas emissions?
A: China’s greenhouse gas emissions mainly come from burning fossil fuels coal, oil, and gas. The industrial sector accounts for 70% of energy use in China, while residential/transportation/agriculture is only 30%. For the U.S., where the industrial sector is smaller but more people drive cars and own big homes, the reverse is true — private consumption is the bulk of energy demand. Read more…

Q: Has China set a target for curbing greenhouse gas emissions?
A: Yes. In November 2009, China announced to the world its intention to reduce CO2 emissions intensity (emissions per unit GDP) by 40-45% in 2020, compared to 2005 levels. This is binding domestically in China, and was formally incorporated into the 12th Five Year Plan. Read more…

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Renewable and Alternative Energy

Q: How much renewable energy is part of China’s fuel mix?
A: Currently, China gets about 8% of its total primary energy from non-carbon sources, including hydropower, wind, nuclear, solar and biomass. Official targets aim to increase that share to at least 15% by 2020. Read more…

Q: How much hydropower does China produce and consume?
A: China is the largest hydropower generator in the world, with about 229 GW currently, and a target of 300 GW for 2020. Read more…

Q: …wind power?
A: China ranks 1st in the world in installed wind power capacity, with 75 GW in 2012. It also is the world’s fastest-growing installer of wind. It has a target of 100 GW of installed wind by 2015. Read more…

Q: …solar?
A: China is the world’s largest producer and exporter of solar cells (PVs), although more than 90% are exported. New targets aim to greatly expand the level of domestic solar power — with a target of over 35 GW of solar PV to be installed by 2015. Currently China has about 7 GW of installed solar PV. Read more…

Q: ...nuclear?
A: China currently uses nuclear power to generate about 2% of the nation’s electricity. Current plans aim to increase generating capacity from about 9 GW to more than 40 GW by 2020. In March 2008, China’s State Energy Bureau suggested a target of 5% of the nation’s electricity from nuclear by 2020. Read more…

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Energy Efficiency

Q: What are China’s goals for energy efficiency?
A: China has set a target of reducing the energy intensity of its economy 16% by 2015 from 2010 levels. Energy intensity is the measure of how much energy is consumed to produce a unit of GDP. Read the official plan here…

Q: What steps is China taking to reduce energy consumption?
A: The Chinese government has closed hundreds of older, less-efficient plants, implemented new building codes, and set targets for China’s 1000 largest enterprises to cut their energy use. These policies are supported by carrots such as financial grants for efficiency investments, and “sticks” such as the incorporation of energy targets into local officials’ performance review criteria. This program has been expanded in the 12th Five Year Plan to cover 10,000 enterprises. Read more…

Q: What has been the impact of China’s energy conservation policies?
A: In 2006, China’s energy intensity decreased by 1.8% — the first improvement since 2001. That gain in energy intensity was followed in 2007 by a 4% improvement and, in 2008, by a further reduction of 4.6%. Overall, China was able to greatly reduce energy intensity during its 11th Five Year Plan. It is now making progress towards even greater reductions in its 12th Five Year Plan. Read more about China’s current progress…

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Forestry

Q: Why are China’s forests important to climate change?
A: Fifty years ago, China’s declining forests were a major contributor of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere due to clearing, but now they are a growing carbon storehouse. In 2000, for instance, scientists estimate that China’s forests stored enough carbon to offset 21% of its fossil fuel emissions. The deputy head of China’s State Forestry Administration recently estimated that more than 5 billion tons of CO2 emissions were saved over the past 25 years via programs to replant trees, manage forests and avoid deforestation. Read more…

Q: What is China doing to improve forest cover?
A: Since 1981, China has planted more than 40 billion trees, doubling forest cover. China’s forests now cover 175 million hectares — an area the size of Alaska. Currently China is investing over $80 billion into Six Key Forestry Programs, with new targets aiming for 26% forest cover by 2050, and 40 million new hectares (over 2005 levels) by 2020. Read more…

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Industry

Q: What is the “1000 Enterprises” Program?
A: China’s “Top-1000 Energy-Consuming Enterprises Program” focuses on energy efficiency improvements in large enterprises that make up 33% of China’s energy use and a similar share of energy-related CO2 emissions. After the five year effort, the companies mostly met or exceeded their goal to save 100 million tons of coal equivalent. Read more…

Q: What is the “10 Key Projects” Program?
A: The “Key Projects” target technological improvements in ten areas: some projects aim to improve industry’s use of energy, and are linked to another of China’s major energy-saving initiatives, the “Top-1000 Energy Consuming Enterprises Program.” Others target residential and government energy use or specific technologies like green lighting. Read more…

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Transportation

Q: What transportation challenges is China facing?
A: The bike is giving way to the bus, the train and the car in China. By 2025, the rapidly urbanizing nation — once known for its throngs of pedalers — could have 250 million cars on its roadways. Building infrastructure sufficient to keep up with transportation demand is one challenge; another is curbing growth in greenhouse gases and fuel demand accompanying the vehicle boom. Read more…

Q: What policies is China implementing to put its transportation sector on a low-emissions path?
A: China is increasing auto fuel economy standards, investing in mass transit to boost the proportion of urban commuters using public transit, and converting public buses and government fleets to less-polluting fuels, as well as deploying incentives aimed at making Chinese companies leaders in manufacturing electric vehicles. Read more on fuel economy standards…
Read more on bus rapid transit…

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Coal for Electricity

Q: How much coal does China use?
A: About 70% of China’s primary energy consumption comes from coal. In 2012, China burned over 3.5 billion tons of coal, more than four times the amount of coal used in the United States, the world’s second largest consumer. However, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has projected that China’s coal use will peak in 2020.See the data here…
See the LBNL report here…

Q: How much of China’s GHG emissions are from coal?
A: Coal is the dirtiest fossil fuel, emitting more CO2 per unit of energy than any comparable fuel. In 2011, Chinese coal was responsible for emitting 7,178 million metric tons (mmt) of CO2 equivalent out of 8,715 mmt from total energy consumption (over 80%), according to the DOE’s Energy Information Administration. Emissions from Chinese coal are thus higher than total European GHG emissions from all sources in 2011. Read more…

Q: What are some of the challenges faced by coal in China?
A: Coal is associated with serious pollution and public health problems. Also, coal in China is now facing significant economic pressures, due to the weak performance of China’s power sector. Along with a slowdown in demand, this weak performance is partially a result of a long-standing electricity price freeze imposed by the government, which is increasingly making coal-fired plants unprofitable and discouraging investment. Large coal use has also led to water shortages in many parts of China. Read more on challenges to coal…
Read more on how water stress and coal use in China intersect...

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Carbon Capture and Storage

Q: Why is Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) important to China?
A: The idea of CCS is to “capture” and store CO2 emissions underground so they do not reach the atmosphere to cause global warming. As a country that relies on coal-fired power plants, a stationary source of emissions, CCS technology could be useful to helping China cut carbon emissions while meeting energy demand growth. Some drawbacks of CCS are that it is currently expensive, the technology is unproven on a large scale, and it has an “energy penalty” that lowers plant efficiency. Read more…

Q: Is China using Carbon Capture and Storage Technology?
A: Though some test projects are in the works, CCS is not yet commercially deployed in China. However, many new gasified coal power plants that China is building are considered “CCS-ready” in that they emit a concentrated stream of CO2, making eventual capture and storage of that carbon more economical. Read more…

Q: Are the U.S. and China cooperating on developing/deploying CCS?
A: China and the U.S. are cooperation on CCS on a number of fronts. U.S. NGOs are working on the ground with the Chinese to identify underground capacity for carbon storage. The U.S government has made CCS a priority for bilateral cooperation, signing an MOU with Beijing in November 2009 to jointly develop advanced coal technologies, including capture and storage. In 2013, the U.S. and China launched a new bilateral initiative to work towards a “transition from research to commercial-scale demonstration” for CCS. Read more…

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Measurement and Compliance

Q: Will China be able to enforce its energy and climate policy goals?
A: The Chinese government’s ability to enforce policies, laws and regulations varies considerably, depending both on the complexity of the task and the political commitment to effective enforcement. Recently, the Chinese government has scaled-up efforts to enforce laws and procedures related to energy data and compliance, implementing new transparency measures and incorporating data reporting into official promotion criteria. Read more…

Q: How reliable is Chinese data on energy and emissions?
A: Although China’s data records are often more “raw” than in developed countries, and there have been issues with misreporting in the past, energy data collection systems are improving. U.S. researchers note that although China’s data on energy and emissions can be difficult to “untangle,” doing so is possible with a reasonable level of confidence in the results, especially at the aggregate level. Compared to some other sectors, energy data in China can be relatively easy to track with a limited number of sources, many of which are stationary. Read more…

Q: What steps is China taking to improve its measurement and compliance capabilities?
A: High-level directives from China’s State Council instructing industries and provinces to report energy use data semi-annually have signaled an increased focus on accurate statistical collection. The U.S. EPA is also working on the ground with China’s ministry in charge of climate change, energy and economic planning to create greenhouse gas inventories in support of China’s reporting responsibilities under the UN Climate Change Convention. Read more…

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Development, Economics and Energy

Q: How are China’s energy use and economic growth related?
A: From 1980 to 2000, China quadrupled the size of its economy while just doubling total energy consumption. This trend reversed in the early 2000s, however, as energy demand grew faster than GDP. Now, numbers indicate that policies to slow energy demand growth once again are having an impact. Read more…

Q: What future development challenges will alter China’s emissions trajectory?
A: An unprecedented rate of urbanization — analysts expect that China will have to prepare for an urban population of 1 billion by 2025 — will affect China’s emissions path. Sprawling, inefficient development would exacerbate efforts to curb emissions, while smart urban growth with energy-efficient urban transport and greener residential and commercial buildings could actually help reduce per-capita energy use and emissions. Read more…

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Policy and Governance

Q: What drives Chinese policy-making on climate change?
A: China has powerful self-interests in action on climate change. China is especially motivated by a concern for environmental quality, economic competitiveness, energy security, threats from climate change, and by an opportunity to assert leadership in the international community. Read more…

Q: What governance challenges is China facing?
A: Tensions between the central government and local officials, who may be more inclined to deliver rapid economic growth in their jurisdiction than to enforce environmental controls, is a recurring theme. As in the United States, many of the challenges arise where the demands of economic development and energy conservation collide. Nevertheless, China is moving ahead to reconcile these challenges with steps such as for the first time incorporating energy conservation targets, in addition to economic development targets, into local officials’ performance review and promotion criteria. Read more…

Q: Does China need a cap-and-trade system to reduce emissions?
A: China’s financial and governance systems are different from the U.S., and many analysts have noted that in China’s underdeveloped financial system, a complex cap-and-trade system may be challenging. China has used a set of market-based and command-and-control policy tools, including targets and quotas, financial incentives, and industrial closures to enforce climate-related goals. However, China has also recently launched pilot cap and trade programs in five cities and 2 provinces.Read more…

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U.S.-China Cooperation

Q: How are the U.S. and China cooperating on energy and climate change?
A: The United States and China have engaged for over 30 years in a wide range of scientific, business and government collaborations aimed at increasing energy efficiency and curbing greenhouse gas emissions. Congressional action will continue to play a critical role in catalyzing and sustaining joint efforts. In July 2013, The U.S. and China began a new phase on ongoing high level collaboration on climate change through the Climate Change Working Group of the Strategic and Economic Dialogue. Read more…

Q: What is the role of climate and energy in the U.S.-China relationship?
A: Cooperation on clean technology development and deployment is considered an area where the U.S. and China can capitalize on shared interests, build trust, and make concrete public benefits for the globe. Collaboration on energy and climate can be “a pillar” of the U.S.-China relationship, and in 2013 both countries pledged, “large scale cooperative action” that would be “crucial both to contain climate change and to set the kind of powerful example that can inspire the world.Read more…

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Notes and References
i Rosen and Houser, 2007, “China Energy: A Guide for the Perplexed,” p. 9.; WRI, Climate Analysis Indicators Tool (CAIT) version 6.0. Washington, DC: World Resources Institute, 2009. Available at: http://cait.wri.org.
ii US Energy Information Agency, “International Energy Statistics,” http://tonto.eia.doe.gov/cfapps/ipdbproject/IEDIndex3.cfm?tid=90&pid=44&aid=8
iii World Resources Institute (WRI). CCS Guidelines: Guidelines for Carbon Dioxide Capture, Transport, and Storage. Washington, DC: WRI.
iv Summarized from remarks of Dr. Mark Levine (Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory) at December 2nd ChinaFAQs conference.
v Deborah Seligsohn, 2009 "US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and China Sign Memorandum of Cooperation on Greenhouse Gas Inventories,” on www.ChinaFAQs.org.