In recent years, China has received widespread praise for its efforts to curb carbon emissions and invest in alternative energy. For the first time, in 2014, the country’s emission levels did not rise, although its total economic output grew by more than seven percent. This data shows that environmental sustainability in China has improved in recent years.
The following year, the Chinese government invested $103 billion in the alternative energy sector—nearly twice the amount invested by the U.S.—and pledged to reach 20 percent alternative energy dependency by 2030.
Despite these monumental steps forward for environmental sustainability in China, a number of roadblocks remain in the way of further improvement.
At the same time as the country has become a global leader in the manufacturing of solar panels and wind turbines, it remains the world’s largest consumer of fossil fuels, exploiting coal for more than 60 percent of its energy needs—nearly double what the U.S. uses.
While coal consumption in China has reportedly declined by about one percent each year since 2014, in 2015 the government admitted to underreporting coal use by 17 percent. Even if coal consumption has decreased by about one percent in recent years, however, the six percent annual increase in GDP and energy consumption in China render the real decrease in coal consumption negligible.
Also in 2015—the same year in which the Chinese National Energy Administration announced it would invest $360 billion in the alternative energy sector over the next five years—the government approved permits for 155 new coal-fired plants.
Even worse, there have been signs in 2017 that China’s traditional heavy industries like steel, cement and coal have received increased credit lines.
None of this is to say that environmental sustainability in China is out of reach. Indeed, for the nation that grew from five percent of the global economy to 17 percent in the span of two decades, not much can be said to be.
Still, if the People’s Republic is to make good on its commitments to sustainability, it will have to roll back fossil fuel consumption at the same time as it grows its alternative energy sectors.
Regardless of whether or not China attains 20 percent alternative energy use by 2030, at its current rate of growth, the country will need approximately twice as much energy to function.
– Nathaniel Sher