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Energy & Climate

China’s Low-Carbon Development


Brookings Institution

China’s clean energy policy has advanced rapidly in recent years. In its last five-year plan, China aimed to reduce energy intensity by 20 percent between 2005 and 2010: a very ambitious goal. What policies and strategies did China employ to meet this target, and how did they perform? What lessons does this hold for China’s current five-year plan, which includes targets to further reduce the energy and carbon intensity of its economy? And what are the environmental and economic implications of China’s activities for the United States and the international community?

On May 31, the John L. Thornton China Center hosted Qi Ye, director of the Climate Policy Initiative (CPI) at Tsinghua University, who shared the findings of CPI’s recent report, “Review of Low-Carbon Development in China 2010.” Professor Qi summarized China’s energy and emissions performance in key sectors, described the policies and instruments implemented to meet this target, and provided initial insights for China’s future low-carbon development. Trevor Houser, partner of the Rhodium Group and director its Energy and Climate Practice, provided comments to the presentation.

After the discussion, the speakers took audience questions.


QI YE: I would like, today, to report to you this analysis and evaluation of some of the achievements and challenges of China and its endeavor towards this low-carbon green economy. It’s a very fashionable terms and I’m going to present today, is quite mixed picture and I will start with something really optimistic and you will think I’m doing the propaganda here and I will — with a less optimistic tone. So, what I’m going to go is first I’ll go over — give an overview of this low-carbon development in China and some key results in different sectors — six sectors all together here, and summarize this and also I would look into the future, the future, I mean, for the next Five-Year Plan, which started earlier this year.

So, whenever we talk about China nowadays, what we think we know is that China is the largest carbon emitter in the world. China exceeded the U.S. in 2007 and became the largest CO2 emitter or the greenhouse gas emitter. And we also know China is the largest energy consumer, started last year in 2010. And the government didn’t like this initially then, but later I think, you know, it’s more or less the case.

3.2 billion tons of coal-equivalent energy consumption, that’s a lot — a lot of coal — I mean, that’s a lot of energy, and that’s just roughly just about 7 billion tons of carbon dioxide, so that is — which is, when you look at the energy intensity, the energy intensity is just about 5 times of Japan and 3 times of the U.S. The U.S. is not the most efficient economy in terms of energy consumption, but still China is five times of the U.S. Then we may ask — well, the conclusion naturally comes, is China an inefficient economy in energy terms or in carbon terms? Not necessarily. You know, the picture is a little bit complicated when we dig into the details.

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