Strategy for security

chinadialogue’s "Changing climates" forum brought together policy makers from China and Europe to discuss energy and climate security on a warming planet. Here,  Liu Zhiyan, Long Xiaobo and Feng San explain China’s responses.

China is currently going through a phase of rapid industrialisation and urbanisation. Demand for energy is rising fast, supply struggles to keep up. As reliance on imported oil increases, so does concern about energy security, which is now seen as one of the most important aspects of Chinese national security. Climate security is also a serious issue: as energy consumption and emissions increase, global warming will intensify and extreme weather events will become increasingly common. The Chinese government has developed a number of strategies aimed at tackling these problems.

Energy security

China’s per capita energy consumption is low, but its absolute energy consumption and its energy consumption per unit of economic output are high. In 2005, China’s per capita energy consumption was a mere 1.18 tonnes of oil – three-quarters of the global average, one-quarter of the Japanese average or one-seventh of the US average. China’s total energy consumption, however, was 2.225 billion tonnes of standard coal in 2005. The next year, this rose to 2.462 billion, making the country the second-largest energy consumer in the world. Demand for power from all sectors continues to rise. Industry accounts for 70% of total energy demand, but the proportion from transport and personal use is also on the rise.

China is fairly rich in energy resources, but the composition of these resources is not ideal. Coal makes up the majority; oil and natural gas are comparatively scarce. The country’s oil and gas resources per capita are only 7.7% and 7.1% of the global average respectively.

Taking these conditions into account, the government has put pressure on its institutions, at all levels, to increase energy performance. Five guiding principles are in place:

• Encouraging energy conservation;

• Ensuring domestic stability;

• Prioritising coal as the main power source;

• Diversifying development;

• Optimising production and consumption.

The government’s objectives are to build a stable, economical, clean and secure system for energy provision. This will be backed with regulation and control of supply and demand to guarantee smooth implementation.

Development zones

Regulation and control of energy supply comprises several key components. The first is to classify land into one of four categories: optimised development zones; key development zones; limited development zones; and zones where development is forbidden. This is based on the load-bearing capacity of local resources and the environment, and on the potential for future development. Population and industry are to be laid out accordingly; zones with particular specialisations are encouraged. Rational distribution should cut both energy consumption and greenhouse-gas emissions.

The second component is to adjust and optimise the structure of industry: efforts should be made to reduce the proportion of GDP accounted for by heavy and chemical industries in China; highly polluting, power-hungry industries such as steel, ferrous metals and concrete should be limited. Development in the services sector and high-tech industries should be accelerated.

Production structures and institutions will also be improved. China’s model of industrial growth needs to be altered to be non-energy-intensive. New, high-tech industries will be encouraged. The government should push forward informatised industries and technological upgrades. It will encourage scaled operations and reduce industrial energy consumption. Eco-industrial parks with circular economies will be developed.

Energy-saving architecture should be actively promoted to reduce the amount of power consumed – and wasted – by buildings.

Everyday power use should be carefully managed. Energy efficiency ratings should be displayed on office equipment, home appliances and cars. Government departments should buy green products and advocate power-saving habits.

Price mechanisms

The Chinese government should establish a rational pricing mechanism for energy that accurately reflects supply and demand. This means developing a modern coal exchange market, rationalising petroleum prices and strengthening price adjustments on natural gas.

Investment in expanding energy production will increase. This will increase the production capacity of large energy corporations and increase the concentration ratio of the industry as a whole. Investment will also allow the government to build large-scale coal production bases; develop large, environmentally friendly thermal power plants; expand nuclear energy; strengthen oil and gas exploration; expand investment channels; improve structural layout; and reduce barriers to entry for renewable energies including wind power, tidal power and micro-hydropower.

The Chinese government will optimise energy structures and gradually increase the proportion of energy consumption that comes from renewables. By 2010, China’s total energy demands will be met by:



CoalOilGas:HydropowerNuclearOther renewables


The government aims to encourage research-and-development in renewable energy, such as biomass technology, integrated solar and geothermal technologies, large-scale wind farms and tidal power. The target is for renewables to meet around 15% of energy demand by 2020.

Self-sufficiency rates for energy must be improved. China has always been able to meet at least 90% of its own energy demands. Currently, however, domestic supplies of crude oil only meet 60% of demand; the national strategic oil reserve mechanism is not fully effective. National policies, therefore, clearly state the need for better and expanded exploration of domestic oil and gas reserves. The key areas will be offshore, the existing major oil and gas fields and new continental reserves. Oil and gas resources in the Tarim, Jekun Yar, Ordos, Qaidum and Sichuan basins need to be rapidly developed. Oil pipelines will be built to transport oil from western to eastern China and from north to south. At an appropriate time, a second gas pipeline running west to east will be built.

The strategy also aims to establish diverse supply channels for oil and gas. This means expanding cooperation with other countries on oil and gas resources; building facilities for the import of liquid natural gas in coastal regions; and building oil pipelines for overland imports. Diverse supply bases should also be established in the main oil-producing nations.


Climate security


Along with energy security, climate security has become an important part of China’s thinking about national security. China is a responsible nation, and as such has played an active role in UN-supported international conferences on emissions reductions and climate security. The country has been involved in negotiating agreements and setting effective measures to tackle these issues. China has clearly expressed its policy of “grabbing the issue with both hands,” which means it will take measures to reduce emissions while also strengthening its ability to adapt to climate change.


According to China’s national plan on climate change [pdf] released in June 2007, the country will “stick to its sustainable development strategy and take such measures as energy efficiency improvement, energy conservation, development of renewable energy, ecological preservation and construction… to control its greenhouse gas emissions and make further contribution to the protection of global climate system.”


So how will China improve its capability to deal with climate change?


The government has categorised different parts of the country, which will take different approaches to the problem: agricultural areas; forests and natural areas; water resources; littoral zones; and coastal regions.


In agricultural areas, the priorities are to build infrastructure to improve rain water storage and drainage, improve irrigation and drainage in fields and conserve water on arable land. This will improve yields in less productive areas of the main grain-producing regions.


Agricultural layouts and crop structures should be optimised; the production of grain, animal fodder and cash crops must be coordinated. Cultivation systems will be adjusted and multiple cropping will be developed further. Varieties of crops that are resistant to biological stresses – drought, waterlogging, high temperatures, pests and diseases – will be bred and grown. Finally, pastures need attention. Natural pasture will be allowed to recover, man-made pastures will be built and pasture coverage will be increased. The livestock sector will be developed rationally, and stress on pastures will be reduced to prevent desertification.


In forests and other natural areas, the focus will be on improving the legal system and its implementation for their protection. Forest coverage will be expanded to meet the target of 20% forest coverage by 2010. IT will be used to improve monitoring of natural forests, wetlands and nature reserves, and prevent forest fires, pest infestations and diseases. When planting forests, varieties which are resistant to cold, drought, pests and disease will be chosen. There will be research on expanding wetlands, protecting forests and animals in nature reserves, recovery technologies and protecting endangered species.


River basins will be managed, planned and combined in an integrated way. There will be dredging of lakes and rivers, reclaimed arable land will be turned into lakes and rivers, flood channels created and ecological systems recovered. Large-scale water resources facilities will be built to optimise resource allocation. Imbalances will be reduced between areas with too much water and those without enough. Research will focus on water cycle and conservation technologies, and techniques for the desalinisation of sea water.


In littoral and coastal regions, the priority will be to build a system of laws and regulations that allow for management of these ecosystems. There will be research and development of techniques for recovery of mangrove forests, coral and coastal wetlands aimed at protecting marine biodiversity. IT will also be employed to provide monitoring and early-warning systems to detect changes above and below the surface. Mechanical and biological steps will be taken to tackle the problem of saline intrusion in river systems and lakes. Coastal defences will be heightened and consolidated, with defences around major cities and engineering projects improved. Ports and harbours will be set to increased elevations, extraction of underground water reserves will be controlled and the heights of waste outlets will be adjusted. Defensive forests will be created in coastal regions.


Combatting drought


In line with scientific predictions on climate change, the key for north China is to strengthen construction of irrigation systems and the south-to-north water transfer project in order to combat drought. In central China, rivers in the Yangtze basin will be controlled and dredged, and flood prevention and water resource facilities will be built. In the south, defences against storms and typhoons will be built, mangrove forests will be recovered, and the damage caused by sea-level rises reduced.


The government will improve research into climate science, climate impacts on economies and societies, the costs and benefits of different methods of dealing with climate change and technology choices. Large-scale climate-change monitoring technologies and energy efficient technology will also be explored, as will carbon-capture technologies, biological and otherwise.


It is important to raise public awareness of climate change. The government must motivate and the media should play a supervisory role by reporting problems and pointing the way forward. Civil society and NGOs must be part of this too. Propaganda, education and training must be strengthened to promote sustainable lifestyles characterised by the frugal use of power and water, consumption of green products and recycling. Climate-change policy-making needs to be more transparent to encourage a scientific and democratic approach to dealing with climate change.


The Chinese government also plans to strengthen its leading role in global efforts to tackle climate change. Working groups have been established at the national and local level. The national working group is led by the Chinese premier, Wen Jiabao, and organised by the National Reform and Development Commission. It researches and defines climate change strategy and policy, and attempts to solve key problems. Groups at local level implement decisions made by the central government, as well as handling local issues.


Energy security and climate security are two sides of the same coin. Improving energy structures and tackling climate change go together in promoting sustainable development. Since the Earth Summit of 1992, China has developed strategies, based on its particular national circumstances, which put it on the path towards a new model of industrialisation, characterised by science, efficiency, low pollution and optimised human resources. China will need advanced technologies in this period of large-scale construction in energy, transportation and architectural infrastructure. Without advanced technology to tackle greenhouse-gases and generate power, China’s construction will result in high emissions for decades to come. The country is still a long way behind developed countries in advanced energy technologies like carbon capture and safer nuclear energy technology. Cooperation with developed countries will hopefully pave the way. Together we must take on the responsibility for protecting our planet.


Professor Liu Zhiyan, the main author, and Dr Long Xiaobo and Associate Professor Feng San, the paper’s co-authors, are researchers at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) Research Centre for Urban Development and the Environment.

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