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RMI in Brief: Momentum Builds in China

By Clay Stranger


In November 2013, Rocky Mountain Institute joined partners Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Energy Research Institute, and Energy Foundation China in Beijing to participate in China’s Senior Policy Advisory Council Dialogue. The theme of this year’s summit was Reinventing Fire: Contributing to China’s Energy Production and Consumption Revolution.

Reinventing Fire’s top billing at the event was evidence of the Chinese government’s National Development and Reform Commission’s growing embrace of this two-year project launched in June 2013. The effort is testing the maximum possible share of energy efficiency and renewable energy that could support the Chinese economy through 2050, while gauging its economic and emissions implications.

After being briefed on the project, distinguished Chinese policymakers had the opportunity to discuss its goals, implications, and opportunities. One official reinforced her hope that Reinventing Fire: China would provide insights and inputs to the energy chapters of the upcoming 13th Five-Year Plan. Addressing a room full of his peers, another senior official commented, “It is an imperative for us to reinvent fire, pursuing energy efficiency and clean energy to support blue skies and fresh air for the future of China.”

Those blue skies and fresh air are front-of-mind for many in China, including the nation’s leaders. Recent peak smog events have crippled northern Chinese cities, and the economic and social costs of heavily polluted air have captured global attention. In northern China alone, air pollution has cost the country an estimated 2.5 billion years of life expectancy to date. In response, China’s State Council recently released a ten-point plan aimed at reducing emissions and improving regional air quality. The plan emphasizes improved air quality monitoring, energy efficiency, accelerated renewable deployment, and shrinking coal’s share of total energy to less than 65 percent by 2017. The plan also targets reducing PM2.5 emissions (a dangerous form of particulate matter air pollution) 25 percent in Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei, 20 percent in the Yangtze River Delta, and 15 percent in the Pearl River Delta by 2017.

In addition to State Council’s plan, the 3rd Plenum of the 18th Party Congress recently announced that the market will start to play an enhanced and decisive role in resource and energy planning. This explicit new approach from the Chinese government lays a strong foundation for Reinventing Fire: China to build on.

China stands at an energy crossroads. It paradoxically leads the world in CO2 emissions, oil imports, and coal consumption on one hand, and energy-productivity gains and renewables investment, manufacturing, and capacity (hydro and non-hydro) on the other. This giant, ancient, complex country is a nexus of enormous challenges and equally impressive solutions unfolding with astounding speed. Decisions made and directions chosen over the next several years will have tremendous implications for the future of China and the world.

Clay Stranger is project manager for Reinventing Fire: China at RMI.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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