Planning for a Sustainable Energy Future
Long-term planning based on solid analysis is important to Chinese decision-makers. In early-2000, the Chinese government put forward a goal of doubling the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by 2020. The implications for the energy system were unclear. Could China create a sustainable energy future and at the same time continue to meet its growth goals?
To begin to model the answer to this question, in 2001, the Low-Carbon Development Program (LCDP) partnered with the Energy Research Institute (ERI) of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) to produce the 2020 China Sustainable Energy Scenario. LCDP chose to work with ERI not only because, as NDRC’s in-house research unit, it provides analysis to key decision makers, but also because it’s one of the most capable research organizations in China. The report proposed that China implement a sustainable energy development strategy in the coming twenty years that prioritizes energy-saving, protects the environment, and is led by the government but facilitated by the market.
As we know, the economy took off in the 2000s. China's accession to the World Trade Organization in 2001 made the exports sector a major driver of growth. China became the world’s factory, with 18 to 25 percent of energy being used in producing exports. Energy consumption surged, highlighting the need for careful energy planning.
Thankfully, many of the energy-saving recommendations in the 2020 Scenario Analysis of China's Sustainable Energy Demand were built into the Energy Plan of the 11th Five-year Plan period (2006-2010), which made energy intensity reduction by 20 percent a compulsory target. The subsequent Energy Plan of the 12th Five-year Plan period included a target of reducing energy intensity by an additional 16 percent.
In spite of these gains, strong economic growth led to an increase in total energy consumption in China. Greenhouse gas emissions and environmental degradation increased. The 2020 China Sustainable Energy Scenario had predicted that China's total GHG emission would surpass the United States’ after 2020, but China became the world's largest emitter in 2007. China knew it needed to better understand its long-term energy and GHG emission trends.
From 2007 to 2008, LCDP and the World Wildlife Fund for Nature jointly supported a more ambitious analysis by ERI and other partners: Low-Carbon Development Road up to 2050: Energy Demand & Carbon Emission Scenario Analysis. The research team included staff from ERI, the Development Research Center of the State Council, the Research Institute for Fiscal Science of the Ministry of Finance, Tsinghua University and the Institute for Urban and Environmental Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. The team also had excellent advisors such as He Jiankun and Zhou Dadi, who sat on the Climate Change Advisory Committee of China’s State Council. This group ensured that the research would be well received by the decision makers considering next steps on energy planning. The report results indicate that with economically feasibly technological and policy choices, China’s GHG emission will peak around 2030.
Five months after the report was released, the Executive Meeting of the State Council, moderated by former Premier Wen Jiabao, made a decision that by 2020, CO2 emission (carbon intensity) per unit of GDP would be 40-45 percent lower than in 2005, a growth path enabling strong economic development with strong environmental performance.
In 2012, the Report of the 18th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China asked that China "promote an energy production and consumption revolution". The following year, LCDP joined hands with ERI, the Rocky Mountain Institute and the China Policy Group of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in initiating the ongoing Reinventing Fire: China project. The goal of the project is to put forward an independent target, vision and roadmap for China's medium and long-term energy strategy, and offer policy recommendations for an ambitious new energy production and consumption pattern.
Recently, there has been a lot of discussion in the energy policy community about setting a mandatory energy consumption cap and an absolute carbon cap. The time is right to offer an ambitious but practical carbon peak vision. Reinventing Fire provides that vision.