China and Climate Change

China’s Climate and Energy Policies

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GHG Emissions China has been the world’s largest greenhouse gas (GHG) emitter since 2006.  Under the 2009 Copenhagen Accord, China pledged to reduce its emissions intensity by 40-45 percent from 2005 levels by 2020. In a joint announcement with the United States in Beijing in November 2014, China announced two new goals: peaking greenhouse gas emissions by around 2030, and increasing non-fossil sources to 20 percent of total energy by 2030. China later included these two goals in its intended nationally determined contribution (INDC) to the new international climate agreement to be concluded in Paris in December 2015, along with a goal of reducing carbon intensity 60-65 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.

Guiding Policy Framework China’s twelfth five-year plan (FYP), covering 2011-15, spelled out a number of reforms to domestic energy and climate policies. The headline targets were to reduce energy intensity by an additional 16 percent, and carbon intensity by 17 percent, by 2015. It has been widely reported that China is currently on track to meet these 2015 targets. The thirteenth FYP is expected to be announced in early 2016.

Cap-and-Trade Programs – In October 2011, China announced its intention to establish seven pilot carbon trading systems in five municipalities and two provinces across the country. On June 19, 2014, the seventh of these pilots was launched in the city of Chongqing. The pilots cover between 35 to 60 percent of emissions within their respective jurisdictions. Each operates under its own rules tailored to regional or local circumstances.

The sub-national pilots reflect China’s growing interest in the use of market-based instruments – and emissions trading in particular – to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The experience gained through these pilot programs is developing familiarity with emissions trading among companies and regulators in large portions of China.

On September 25, 2015, Chinese president Xi Jinping announced a plan to launch a nationwide cap-and-trade program in 2017, covering the power generation, iron and steel, chemicals, building materials including cement, paper-making and nonferrous metals sectors.

Renewable Energy – The twelfth FYP set a target of increasing non-fossil energy to 11.4 percent of total energy use by 2015. Hydroelectric power is the main non-fossil energy source in China, generating 14.7 percent of electricity in 2011. Indeed, China is the largest hydroelectric producer in the world. The government wishes to increase installed hydroelectric capacity from 230 GW in 2011, to 330 GW in 2017. Solar and wind energy deployment has increased at rapid pace – for instance, China installed 12.9 GW of solar photovoltaic (PV) in 2013 to reach a total capacity to 20 GW.[i] The Chinese government announced targets to increase solar and wind capacity to 70 and 150 GW, respectively, by 2017.

Coal – After many years of rapid increases, the government is now taking steps to reduce China’s coal consumption.  In 2013, 67.5 percent of energy consumption was from coal.[ii]  In September that year, following rising concerned about air pollution, the government issued the Air Pollution Prevention and Control Action plan with the headline target of reducing coal consumption to 65 percent of total primary energy by 2017. Bans on new coal power plants are now in place in three industrial regions: Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei, Yangtze River Delta and the Pearl River Delta.[iii]

More recently, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology announced plans to reduce coal consumption by 80 million tons by 2017, and 160 million tons by 2020 – China’s total coal consumption in 2014 was approximately 2.8 billion tons.[iv][v] Furthermore, the State Council has announced plans to cap national coal consumption at 4.2 billion tons from 2020 onwards.[vi]

Nuclear – Nuclear power will play an increasing role in China’s energy mix in coming years. Capacity will increase from 14 GW in 2013 to 48 GW by 2017.  In total, there are 26 reactors currently in operation, and 28 under construction.[vii] The government has set a target of 58 GW of nuclear capacity by 2020.

Energy Efficiency – Improving energy efficiency is critical to achieving China’s carbon intensity targets. In 2008, China passed the Energy Conservation Law to boost energy efficiency throughout the Chinese economy. In 2010, the NDRC implemented demand-side management regulations that require utilities to achieve electricity savings of 0.3 percent per year, and reduce peak demand by the same percentage.[viii] China also has sector-specific energy efficiency standards – for instance, new commercial buildings must comply with building codes on energy use.[ix] There are also energy efficiency standards for household appliances that become more stringent over time.[x]

Transportation – In 2012 the China State Council approved a development plan for energy saving from the automobile industry up to 2020. The objective is to speed the development and roll out of more fuel-efficient cars and new energy sources. For manufacturers, China set target fuel economy standards for new cars of 5L/100km, approximately 47 miles per gallon (mpg), by 2020. Consumers were offered a reduction in the vehicle tax paid on energy saving vehicles by half, and eliminating vehicle tax altogether on electric cars.[xi]

Energy and Climate Goals of China's 12th Five-Year Plan

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The 12th Five-Year Plan (FYP) adopted by the Chinese government in March 2011 devotes considerable attention to energy and climate change and establishes a new set of targets and policies for 2011-2015.  While some of the targets are largely in line with the status quo, other aspects of the plan represent more dramatic moves to reduce fossil energy consumption, promote low-carbon energy sources, and restructure China’s economy.  Among the goals is to "gradually establish a carbon trade market."  Key targets include:

  • A 16 percent reduction in energy intensity (energy consumption per unit of GDP);
  • Increasing non-fossil energy to 11.4 percent of total energy use; and
  • A 17 percent reduction in carbon intensity (carbon emissions per unit of GDP).

C2ES Report: Market-Based Climate Mitigation Policies in Emerging Economies

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Used by governments for decades, market-based policies are mechanisms to control environmental pollution at various leverage points. This brief provides an overview of market-based policies aimed at reducing GHG emissions in several major emerging economies: Brazil, China, India, South Africa and South Korea. By implementing regulatory and market-based policy instruments across their economies, these countries are seeking to promote cleaner technologies and behavior change while also promoting economic development and growth.    

U.S.-China Workshop: Domestic MRV of Climate Efforts

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This workshop focused on domestic monitoring and evaluation of mitigation-related efforts, and on the role of measurement, reporting and verification (MRV) in effective emissions markets, drawing in both areas on domestic experiences in the United States and China.

Beijing Workshop on Reporting Practices Related to Climate Change and Other International Challenges

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The workshop focused on four topics: domestic MRV of mitigation efforts in China and the United States; MRV of support; reporting and review processes in other multilateral regimes such as the WTO, the IMF, and the Montreal Protocol; and lessons for international MRV of climate action.

Coal in China: Resources, Uses, and Advanced Coal Technologies

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China’s energy-development pathway has increasingly become a topic of international attention, particularly as China has become the largest national source of annual greenhouse gas emissions. At the forefront of this pathway is a reliance on coal that has spanned many decades. In a world faced with increasing environmental pressures, China must develop ways to utilize coal more efficiently and more cleanly. Its ability to do so will be crucial for its domestic energy security, for its local environment and the well-being of its population, and for the future of the global climate.

Common Challenge, Collaborative Response: A Roadmap for U.S.-China Cooperation on Energy and Climate Change

Learn more about the roadmap.

A new report released by the Center and the Asia Society outlines a roadmap for a more comprehensive program of U.S.-China collaboration on energy and climate change.  The report was produced in partnership between the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions and the Asia Society’s Center on U.S.-China Relations, in collaboration with The Brookings Institution, Council on Foreign Relations, National Committee on U.S.-China Relations, and Environmental Defense Fund.

A related article by Eileen Claussen discusses the importance of a U.S.-China partnership on climate change.  

Climate Change Mitigation Measures in China

Read the China Fact Sheet.

China is now the world’s largest greenhouse gas (GHG) emitter, and its emissions are increasing rapidly with economic growth and rising energy demand. The United States remains the largest historic GHG emitter. China's emissions have grown by about 80% since 1990, driven heavily by increased consumption of electricity generated from coal.

As total emissions have grown, China has significantly reduced its emissions intensity (emissions per unit of GDP). China’s per capita emissions are below the world average and about one-fifth those of the United States.

China Releases Climate Change Plan

Read China's National Climate Change Program

On June 4, 2007, China released its first national climate change plan. Prepared by China’s National Development and Reform Commission, the plan outlines China’s strategy for addressing climate change through national programs aimed at mitigation, adaptation, science and technology research, and increasing public awareness.

Read Eileen Claussen's Statement

[i] Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century, “Renewables 2014 Global Status Report” 2014. P.56

[ii] BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2014

[iii] Barbara Finamore, “China pledges to Tackle Pollution with New Plan,” National Resources Defense Council. September 13, 2013. Available at:

[iv] Reuters, “China to cut coal consumption to reduce pollution: Ministry” March 6, 2015. Available at:

[vi] Barbara Finamore, “Another Major Climate Breakthrough: China Will Cap its Coal Consumption by 2020”, National Resources Defense Council, November 21, 2014. Available at:

[vii] World Nuclear Association, “Nuclear Power in China” April 2015. Available at:

[viii] IEA Policies and Measures. April 2015. Available at:

[ix] Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, “Analysis of the Chinese Market for Building Energy Efficiency”, March 2014. Available at:

[x] China FAQs, “Appliance Energy Efficiency Standards”, May 2010. Available at:

[xi] IEA Policies and Measures. April 2015. Available at: