February 2018: China’s coal consumption in 2017 picked up for the first time since 2013, despite Beijing’s push to promote less-polluting energy sources. However, as a portion of total energy consumption, coal usage fell to 60.4% while clean energy, including natural gas and renewables, rose to 20.8%. That indicates the country remains on track to fulfil its promise to decarbonise its economy and reduce air pollution, as it vowed to cut the coal portion to below 58% of total energy consumption by 2020.

China had a total of 163.7GW of installed wind capacity and 130.3GW of solar capacity by end 2017, up 10.5% and 68.7% compare to a year ago. Average level of major air pollutants fell significantly in 2017, with concentrations of particulate matter smaller than 2.5 microns, known as PM2.5 in the smog-prone Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region dropped by 39.6% compared to five years ago. China aims to introduce even tougher air quality targets to cover the 2018 to 2020 period and to continue push the conversion of coal to clean energy. link


  • China’s greenhouse gas emissions
  • China’s pollution problem
  • Coal dependence in decline
  • Nuclear power
  • Renewable energy (incl. wind, solar and wave power)
  • Other news
 Greenhouse gas emissions 

July 2018: China’s CO2 emissions may have peaked years early. China’s CO2 emissions fell from 2014 to 2016 and might already have peaked, according to a study, with structural economic changes allowing Beijing to meet targets earlier than expected. China vowed before the Paris climate talks in 2015 to bring CO2 emissions to a peak by ‘around 2030′, and the country’s top climate official has already said it could meet the pledge ahead of time. Emissions hit a record 9.53 gigatonnes in 2013 and declining in the following three years, dropping to 9.2 gigatonnes in 2016. link

IEA World Energy Outlook 2017: China moves to a “new normal”. China is changing and its energy future promises to be quite different from its energy past. For years, the dominant energy narrative on China concentrated on the extraordinary pace of its development, the country’s success in lifting hundreds of millions of its citizens out of poverty (including energy poverty), the scale of its industrialisation and its demand for energy resources, most notably for coal. While elements of this narrative remain true, the country is quickly changing course in the direction of a much more services-based economy and a much cleaner energy mix. This new direction will have consequences that are no less significant for China and the world than its earlier period of energy-intensive development. link

December 2017: China aims to drastically cut greenhouse gas emissions through trading scheme. China has launched the world’s biggest ever mechanism to reduce carbon, in the form of an emissions trading system. China’s top governmental bodies on gave their approval to plans for a carbon trading system that will initially cover the country’s heavily polluting power generation plants, then expand to take in most of the economy. “This is a game-changer,” said Nathaniel Keohane, vice president at the Environmental Defense Fund, a US-based environmental group. “This shows global leadership on the part of the Chinese government.” China has already set out a target of ensuring its still-growing emissions peak by 2030, which experts say should be met. link

How bad are China’s GHG emissions? China’s population is roughly 25% of the world total. 2014 figures show that China’s emissions per capita were 7.5 tons, compared to the United States at 16.5 tons, and Japan at 9.5 tons. The world average of 5 tons. (Note: India’s are  just 1.7 tons per capita.) link  The West also owns some of China’s emissions. 22.5% of China’s emissions are generated during production of goods and services consumed overseas, and 7.8% are embodied in exports to the US alone. link

September 2017: China looks at plans to ban petrol and diesel cars. In 2016, China, the world’s largest car market, made 28 million cars, almost a third of the global total. China wants electric battery cars and plug-in hybrids to account for at least 20% of its vehicle sales by 2025. link

February 2016: China confirms 2015 emissions fall as solar and wind break records. (Declines in coal usage over the last two years equal Japan’s annual consumption.) link

January 2016: Coal, steel sectors to suffer as China pollution drive accelerates. Coal, steel and concrete production in China faces tighter restrictions in 2016, say experts, as central government in Beijing cracks down on heavy polluters. New rules to combat air pollution came into effect from 1 January, while courts are likely to continue to use a revised Environmental Protection Law to enforce change. link

August 2015: China’s carbon emissions from fossil fuels may be 14% lower than thought. The report attributes the difference mainly to the coal industry, estimating that the emission factors, the amount of carbon released by the coal, were on average 40% lower than what is recommended by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. link

 Cleaning up China’s air pollution will cost $285 billion between 2013 and 2017, a high-ranking environmental official has estimatedlink

China’s great green wall.
Observers say China’s reforestation program in the north – also known as the “Green Great Wall” – is the world’s largest ecological engineering project. The country is building a belt of trees that will stretch some 2,800 miles across north and northwest China in an attempt to stop the advance of the Gobi desert. Overall, the country has planted 13 million hectares (32 million acres) of new forest since 2008, according to the State Forestry Administration. link May 2015: In China’s great green wall, 66 billion trees are sucking up carbon emissions. Over the last few decades, more than 66 billion trees have been planted in northern China. By 2050, the project will stretch along 2,800 miles. In theory, it’s holding back the desert, though some critics say that plan might not actually work. But the trees are sucking up carbon, and without them, climate change would likely be moving just a little bit faster. link
China’s Pollution Problem
June 2014: China pledges to limit carbon emissions for the first time. He Jiankun, chairman of China’s Advisory Committee on Climate Change, told a conference in Beijing that an absolute cap on carbon emissions will be introduced later this decade. Although the average Chinese person’s carbon footprint is still much lower than the average American’s, it is catching up, and is now on par with the average European’s. link

March 2013: Pollution forces China’s leaders to act. About 750,000 people die as a result of air pollution in China each year. Many of the country’s rivers are so polluted that authorities do not permit residents to even touch the water, not to mention use it to irrigate fields. China’s new leadership wants to transform China from a primarily agrarian and industrial country into a high-tech and service nation. The challenge and the need to break with the past are especially evident in environmental policy. China’s environment policy has developed into a question of national security, not because the government is particularly farsighted, but because its power is on the line. link

March 2014: U.S. trade deals set up China as pollution haven. As much as one-third of China’s carbon load on the atmosphere can be traced to exports of cheap clothes, electronics, machinery and other goods consumed by Americans and Europeans, experts say. And while free trade to the West has made China’s economy boom, Chinese people have paid dearly due to the resulting smog from factories and coal-fired power plants. link

March 2014: China is to “declare war” on pollution.  China does not just suffer from smog, but also agricultural pollution, including the contamination of farmland by heavy metals. link

January 2012: Air pollution long-term challenge. China’s city dwellers to breathe unhealthy air ‘for another 20-30 years’.  The cautionary note comes at the start of a year when Beijing, Shanghai and several other Chinese metropolises will begin publicly releasing data on tiny particulates known as PM2.5, which account for more than half of the country’s air-borne contaminants and have the most damaging impact on human health. “It took the US and Europe 50 years to deal with their problem. Even if we cut that [PM2.5] in half, it will still take 20 to 30 years,” said a haze expert. link

Coal dependence in decline

September 2018: Surge in new coal projects reported. Research, carried out by green campaigners Coal Swarm suggests that 259 gigawatts of new capacity are under development in China. The report says that at present China has 993 gigawatts of coal power capacity, but the approved new plants would increase this by 25%. This happened because of a decentralisation programme that shifted authority over coal plant construction approvals to local authorities. link

February 2016: Coal is now responsible for 64% of China’s total energy. According to EU data, the coal constitutes 73% of China’s fossil fuel consumption, and is responsible for 83% of the CO2 emissions that result from burning fossil fuels. This is the second year running there has been a decline in coal use despite the growing economy. link  A hefty share of the pollution rising out of China’s smokestacks comes from factories churning out material goods for the rest of the world. In 2006, China became the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gas emissions, overtaking the US. By 2013, 28% of global greenhouse gas emissions came from China, according to data from the Global Carbon Project. link

November 2016: China risks $490 billion on new coal plants. As growth slows in China, the country has had a difficult time weaning itself off coal, even as the pollution it causes wreaks havoc on the environment and public health. Many of China’s giant state-owned coal mining firms are unviable and plagued by overcapacity, but the ruling Communist party is reluctant to turn off the financial taps and risk widespread unemployment, with its potential for anger and unrest. China is operating the coal units at less than half their capacity, a campaign group says. However, the country has another 205GW already under construction and plans for an additional 405GW. link

December 2015: China to halt new coal mine approvals. China will stop approving new coal mines for the next three years and will continue to trim production capacity as the world’s biggest energy consumer struggles to shift away from the fuel as it grapples with pollution. link

July 2015: Global coal boom ends as China and rest of world wake up to carbon pollution. There was a true global coal renaissance starting around the year 2000, a resurgence due primarily to China. But it is now stalling.  China, which was responsible for some 80% of the growth in global demand since 2000, has completely reversed its strategy of coal-intensive growth. The driving force of this reversal is the terrible toll coal pollution has taken on the health of Chinese citizens in urban or industrialized areas, combined with the growing realization at the highest levels of China’s government that climate change will devastate China and that it must become a leader in avoiding the worst impacts. link

May 2015: China on track for biggest reduction in coal use ever recorded. China is cutting down on its coal habit. In the first four months of 2015, the country consumed almost 8% less coal than the same period a year earlier. If the trend continues, China will close out 2015 with the biggest reduction in both coal use and CO2 every recorded by a single country. link

March 2015: Beijing to shut all major coal plants to cut pollution – link   

May 2010: China outpaces U.S. in cleaner coal-fired plants. Largely missing in the hand-wringing is that China has emerged in the past two years as the world’s leading builder of more efficient, less polluting coal power plants, mastering the technology and driving down the cost. link

 Nuclear power

June 2018: China’s nuclear energy gambit. In order to wean itself off coal and reduce environmental pollution while continuing to grow its economy, Beijing is increasingly turning to nuclear energy to feed the country’s hunger for power in a more sustainable way. China currently has 39 nuclear power reactors in operation, with another 20 currently under construction, and plans for still more reactors. According to the 13th Five-Year Plan for power production released by the National Energy Administration, nuclear is expected to provide 8 to 10% of China’s electricity needs by 2030. Despite the administration’s zeal for advancing its nuclear capabilities, however, China’s domestic industry is struggling to find the deep expertise needed to reach these targets. link

Following the Fukushima meltdown in 2011, China suspended approval of new nuclear power stations. At the time China got 2% of its energy from 13 reactors, but had launched an ambitious project to drastically increase those figures. China is currently building 27 new reactors, about 40% of the total number being built around the world, and according to the World Nuclear Association, China wants to build a total of 110 nuclear reactors over the next few years. In 2015: China restarted their nuclear power build up ending their moratorium – link

January 2011: China joins Britain, France and India in the ability to reprocess spent nuclear fuel. China has been working on this technology for 24 years, and has an ambitious program of building new nuclear power stations. link   

 Renewable energy (including wind, solar and wave power)

April 2017: China solar, wind to attract $780 billion investment by 2030. China’s wind and solar sectors could attract as much as $782 billion in investment between 2016 and 2030 as the country tries to meet its renewable energy targets. China has pledged to increase non-fossil fuel energy to at least 20% of total consumption by the end of the next decade, up from 12% in 2015. To do that, China would need to raise wind and solar power’s share of primary energy consumption to 17% by 2030, up from 4% in 2015. link

January 2017: China to invest $361bn in clean power by 2020. The blueprint sets the country on a path to get 15% of its total energy from non-fossil fuel sources by the end of the decade. Coal will still account for more than half of installed electricity capacity over the period, according to the administration. The total global spending on renewable energy (without nuclear) in 2015 was $286bn. link

September 2016: China emerging as global clean energy leader – link

September 2017: China’s offshore wind resources are expected to accelerate at a gigawatt-level annually starting in 2018, and research suggests it will reach 26GW by the end of 2026. China is currently on track to build world’s largest offshore wind farm. One of the country’s main power producers, is planning an 800MW wind off the coast of eastern China’s Yancheng, Jiangsu province. If plans proceed, the project will surpass the UK’s 630MW London Array and nab top spot as the world’s largest offshore wind farm. Yancheng Wind is currently set to enter operation in 2018. link

August 2012: China plans to spend $372 billion on energy conservation and anti-pollution measures over the next three-and-a-half years. China is the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases; it plans to cut its CO2 emissions per unit of GDP by 40-45% from 2005 levels by 2020.Rapid growth in China has made it difficult for the country to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Last year, China was responsible for 29% of the world’s total CO2 emissions. link

Wind energy in China

As of February 2018, China now has 188.2GW wind capacity installed (link) and is on track to install at least 110.4GW of onshore wind capacity over the next three years. This would increase the country’s cumulative installed capacity by 2020 to about 264GW, far surpassing the original target of 210GW set during the 13th Five-Year Plan period. link

January 2013. Wind overtakes nuclear power as China’s third largest energy source – link

September 2009: China could meet its energy needs by wind alone, according to a new report. Moving to a low-carbon energy future would require China to make an investment of around $900bn (at current prices) over the same 20-year period. The scientists consider this a large but not unreasonable investment given the present size of the Chinese economy. Moreover, whatever the energy source, the country will need to build and support an expanded energy grid to accommodate the anticipated growth in power demand. ‘Wind farms would only need to take up land areas of 0.5 million square kilometers, or regions about three-quarters of the size of Texas. The physical footprints of wind turbines would be even smaller, allowing the areas to remain agricultural. link

Solar Power 

November 2017: China on pace for record solar capacity. China is poised to install a record amount of solar-power capacity this year, putting about 54 gigawatts in place. China installed 43GW of solar power in the first nine months of 2017, already above the 34.5GW for all of 2016. China surpassed Germany as the country with the most installed photovoltaic power capacity in 2015. link

February 2017: Longyangxia Dam Solar Park now the largest solar farm in the world. On the Tibetan Plateau in eastern China, 4 million solar panels soak up the sun, spreading over 10 square miles of the high desert landscape. The installation currently has the capacity to generate 850MW of electricity. China is expected to produce a total of 110GW of solar power and 210GW of wind power by 2020. link

February 2017: China’s PV solar more than doubles in 2016. China now boasts over 77GW of installed solar PV, up from 34GW at the end of 2015. link  (May 2017) In the first 3 months of the year, China added 7.21GW of solar power bringing its total installed capacity to almost 85GW. link

June 2014: China’s solar panel production comes at a cost. The environmental cost of Chinese-made solar panels is about twice that of those made in Europe, according to research by Northwestern University and the United States Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory. The analysis tallied the costs at every step of production, including the mining of raw materials, transportation and the factory’s power supply. link

Wave Power

April 2014: China is increasing spending on tidal power. China’s largest project could outmatch any planned development in Europe. Currently, the UK is the leader in marine power, with a goal of 200MW installed by 2020. The largest potential project in China is a $30 billion tidal wall that could have an installed power base of about a gigawatt. The dam-like structure has turbines with curved blades that allow marine life to swim through while harnessing the energy in the water. The project has domestic and international backing, including from the Dutch government and eight Dutch companies. Beijing has provided about $3 million for feasibility studies for the tidal wall, but the full project wouldn’t be built for at least a decade. The turbine wall would run perpendicular to the coast and then extend out in a T-shape, covering 30 kilometers. link

 Other news

July 2018: Unsurvivable heatwaves could strike heart of China by end of century. The deadliest place on the planet for extreme future heatwaves will be the north China plain.  link

May 2016: China’s desertification is causing trouble across Asia. Creeping desertification in China is swallowing thousands of square kilometres of productive soil every year. It’s a challenge of gigantic and unprecedented proportions. The rate of desertification increased throughout the second half of last century and, although this trend has since stabilised, the situation remains very serious. More than a quarter of the entire country is now degraded or turning to desert, thanks to “overgrazing by livestock, over cultivation, excessive water use, or climate change. link

February 2015 – Update on fracking. China is in the early stages of a fracking revolution, attempting to copy the rise in U.S. shale-gas production in an effort to combat unhealthy levels of pollution and meet a surge in energy demand. By 2020, China aims to produce 30 billion cubic meters of shale-gas a year, up from the current level of 1.3 billion cubic meters. That would take fracking output from just 1% of all of China’s gas production to 15% in five years. link

December 2009. Earth-friendly elements, mined destructively. Some of the greenest technologies of the age, from electric cars to efficient light bulbs to very large wind turbines, are made possible by an unusual group of elements called rare earths. The world’s dependence on these substances is rising fast. Just one problem: These elements come almost entirely from China, from some of the most environmentally damaging mines in the country, in an industry dominated by criminal gangs. link  
(China controls 97% of rare earth production – More on rare-earth metals)

July 2017: China currently has the highest number of electric cars in the world. About 650,000 electric vehicles are on its roads, representing about a third of the world’s total. It has overtaken the US since 2014 to have the most number of electric vehicles. China, the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitter, has said it wants alternative fuel vehicles to account for at least one-fifth of its 35 million annual vehicle sales projected by 2025. link

November 2013: E-bikes have exploded in popularity. The lustre of car ownership is now wearing off in China and drivers stuck in traffic are being drawn to these silent low-polluting two-wheelers getting to their destinations on time. In just a decade, the e-bike population in China will go from near zero to more than 150 million by 2015, the largest adoption of an alternative fuel vehicle in the history of motorization. Early observations show that e-bike crashes are increasing faster than their growth rate and are more severe than say, bicycle crashes. E-bike riders tend to behave badly as well exhibiting only slightly better behaviour than car drivers. link

Suggested sources for further information  
The (UK) Guardian offers a regular compilation page of environmental items on China.