China’s energy demand continues to grow, fed in large part by rapid urbanization and a fast-growing economy. In fact, China is the world’s largest energy consumer, surpassing the U.S. in 2010 (US Energy Information Administration – EIA). Fossil fuels, particularly coal, continue to be the leading sources of the country’s electricity generation. While energy use surged 45 percent in 2013, coal continues to dominate the electricity mix with 66% of total capacity (National Bureau of Statistics). Without significant intervention, China’s energy consumption will continue rising rapidly. China is also the world’s leading energy-related CO2 emitter, releasing 8,715 million metric tons of CO2 in 2011.
Although China’s leaders set ambitious targets to maintain or expand economic growth, they realize that they must look towards alternative energy forms and energy efficient technologies in order to manage energy consumption and thereby reduce emissions of CO2 and address the pressing air pollution problem.
Protecting the global environment: China’s large-scale emissions of carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and other pollutants degrade global air quality and climate stability. Global climate change is one of the largest threats to all life on Earth and will affect economies and societies in coming decades. It is imperative that we act now to develop creative energy solutions that provide a range of economic and social benefits with less environmental impact.
Elevated levels of urban air pollution result in substantial adverse health impacts for China’s large and rapidly growing urban population, which has produced serious costs on the individuals, the health system, and the economy as a whole.
China’s dangerous pollution levels are not only a cause of concern to the citizens of China, but also impacts the air quality in parts of the U.S. West Coast. Powerful global winds (the westerlies) carry pollutants from China across the Pacific Ocean within days, leading to “dangerous spikes in contaminants,” in the U.S. West Coast especially during the spring. This has resulted in mercury contamination of U.S. fish and soil. Furthermore, up to one-third of the air pollution in California originates in China (NY Times).
Meeting targeted goals: China has established goals of reducing carbon intensity (carbon emissions per unit of GDP) by 17% between 2010 and 2015 and reducing energy intensity (energy use per unit of GDP) by 16% during the same period, according to the country’s 12th Five-Year Plan. China also intends to reduce its overall CO2 emissions by at least 40% between 2005 and 2020 (EIA) as well as peak CO2 emissions by 2030. Further efforts are needed in order to achieve these ambitious goals.
Impact on global natural resources: China’s rapidly improving standard of living comes with a greatly increased per capita demand for natural resources and a corresponding increase in the environmental pressures associated with extracting, processing, and using these resources.