China's Energy Plans

Olivia Liautaud
September 14, 2017

Submitted as coursework for PH240, Stanford University, Fall 2016


Fig. 1: Map of China. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

China is the world leading greenhouse gas emitter, making it one of the nations most responsible for human-induced climate destruction. The country heavily relies on the energy from natural resources and consumes that energy at an extremely high rate, thereby producing an enormous amount of toxic gas and releasing it into the atmosphere. Despite increasing pressures on the country to reduce its environmentally-harmful emission levels and its participation in the Climate Change Summit in Paris earlier this year, China shows different levels of commitment towards changing their energy dependence.

South China Sea and Investments in Africa

Some of China's recent economic and political activity demonstrates, or at least strongly suggests, their full intention to continue heavily relying on natural resources as their primary energy source. The South China Sea (south east of country mapped in Fig. 1) disputes, for example, has nothing to do with actual land such as the Spratly Islands but what lies in the bed of the waters surrounding. China's heavy involvement in these territorial disputes is purely driven by the immense abundance of natural gas in the sea bed and the huge economic potential from its exploitation. Another sign regards China's heavy investments in Africa. Although on ground, China's new presence in certain regions in Africa have not been so successful concerning their relations with the local people, their investment activities further emphasize their lack of plans for cleaner energy. Both of these examples demonstrate that China is still planning to rely on natural gas resources as their main source of energy for the coming years and suggests the country may not currently be looking to transition to cleaner energy.

China's 13th Five-Year Plan

In March of earlier this year, China released its 13th Five-Year Plan outlining the country's new plan for social and economic initiatives for the next five years. Their plans indicate their intentions to actively take responsibility for the country's catastrophic emission levels, particularly relative to every other Carbon Dioxide emitting country on the planet, as shown in Fig. 2. Chinese energy targets for 2020 include:

Fig. 2: Carbon Dioxide Emissions per Region/Country 2000-2014. [2] (Source: O. Liautaud) - This figure dangles. - RBL

These major targets were a result of the previous Five Year Plan's success when goals were either met or surpassed. In addition, China's shift away from heavy resource-based industry and transition to service-based economy, there is a natural decline in carbon intensity. Together, China feels confident it can set these new targets for 2020 and have little problem achieving all of them.

However the problem with the energy targets for China 2020 outlined above is the fact that most of them are referring to energy consumption or amount of emission in units relative to GDP units for that year. Although China's GDP growth rate has slowed down in the last few years, it is still increasing and so if energy consumption or greenhouse gas emission goes up but is only measured with respect to GDP, then any increase in the actual amount of those two things may be masked and completely overlooked.


China will continue to face pressures to reduce their carbon emissions until they really do so. For now, despite their economy shifting towards services from heavy industry, implying a less carbon intensive economy, China does not have serious plans to effectively reduce their reliance on natural resources for energy nor do they have any real commitment to invest in cleaner energy sources at this point in time.

© Olivia Liautaud. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] H. Chen, "The Road From Paris: China's Progress Toward Its Climate Pledge," Natural Resources Defense Council, IB 16-10-F, November, 2016.

[2] J. G. J. Olivier et al., "Trends in Global CO2 Emissions - 2015 Report," PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, November 2015.