Rebalancing China’s Energy Strategy

Written by Damien Ma, a Fellow at the Paulson Institute and co-author of the book In Line Behind a Billion People (FT Press, 2014), this inaugural paper is a scene setter that provides a comprehensive overview of China’s energy strategies, policies, choices, and tradeoffs. It is a first-rate survey of China’s underlying energy challenges, and frames the exciting series of additional papers to come. These papers will focus on such diverse topics as China’s shale gas development and the changing economics of Chinese energy.

Ma’s paper frames and examines the current state of China’s energy structure and some of the existing proposals to reshape its energy landscape through 2020. Subsequent papers in this series will focus on various aspects of China’s energy and environmental conundrum, providing analyses of different sectors and technologies or offering diverse views on policies that are germane to the major energy-related issues that China faces. His paper does not offer specific prescriptions or solutions, but rather lays out the core elements of China’s energy strategy now and into the near future.

Ma argues that Chinese policy is premised on an understanding of the gravity of the country’s energy and environmental woes—and that Beijing is confronting these with a sense of urgency. But, he says, any assessment of what Beijing can achieve in the medium term needs to be tempered by a realistic understanding of the fact that economic growth, and therefore energy demand growth, still needs to continue for decades. And it is not yet clear whether a more consumption-driven Chinese economy—one that has been rebalanced away from a growth model premised on investment in fixed assets and exports toward domestic consumption and higher-quality growth—will help to facilitate an energy transition or simply alter the character of China’s energy consumption.

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