China’s Energy Challenges


NANJING — China’s development in past decades has led to enormous economic benefits for its citizens, providing more opportunities for work, education, and exposure to the outside world. Though praised for lifting hundreds of millions of its citizens out of poverty, China is more often criticized for contributing the largest share of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. Development comes at a cost, which is why China is trying to reverse some of the existing environmental degradation by transitioning to a cleaner mix of energy as proposed by Beijing’s renewable energy targets for 2020 and 2030.

Considering that China at present consumes a fifth of the world’s energy, China’s shift towards a greater employment of renewable energy is a global matter. In order to wean itself off heavy reliance on fossil fuels, in particular coal, China will be investing in greater amounts of natural gas, nuclear, solar, wind, and hydropower. Although at present renewable energy only accounts for 10 percent of China’s energy usage, by 2020 China plans to increase renewable energy’s contribution to 15 percent, and 20 percent by 2030. Within these lofty targets lie many obstacles that are complicating  China’s punctual completion of said marks for renewable energy.

China is by no means alone in the challenges it faces to increase renewable energy use. The entire world, and especially developing countries, are faced with the problem of integrating environmental conservation and economic development into a sustainable model. Specifically in China, the challenges of moving towards a more sustainable model include opposing determinants such as a rapidly expanding economy, greater expectations from consumers, growing energy use, as well as rampant pollution at all levels. Furthermore, more problems reside within each category just mentioned that plague the proliferation of renewables in China.

In order for China to find success in shifting to heavier reliance upon renewables, there needs to be a fundamental restructuring of the economy to be more ecologically focused. Looking at the big picture, China’s breakneck speed of economic growth is bound to hit a ceiling sooner rather than later. In no way can the environment uphold such a rate of development without a more sustainable model based on energy that leaves a light carbon footprint.

Even though burning fossil fuels is still the convenient and cheap thing to do, the growth rate of renewables needs a great deal of acceleration in order to sustain future development. In this process, developing countries, more so than developed countries, may have to choose between short-term economic growth or a long-term sustainable future. But in order to achieve both economic and environmental prosperity in the long run, it needs to be realized that one cannot be accomplished without the other.