Economic Development and Environmental Sustainability
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2011 7th Issue: China's Energy Conditions and Policies

Time: 10/12/2011          Source: IEEPA

Energy is an essential material basis for human survival and development. Over the entire history of mankind, each and every significant step in the progress of human civilization has been accompanied by energy innovations and substitutions. The development and utilization of energy has enormously boosted the development of the world economy and human society.

Over more than 100 years in the past, developed countries have completed their industrialization, consuming an enormous quantity of natural resources, especially energy resources, in the process. Today, some developing countries are ushering in their own era of industrialization, and an increase of energy consumption is inevitable for their economic and social development.

China is the largest developing country in the world, and developing its economy and eliminating poverty will, for a long time to come, remain the main tasks for the Chinese government and the Chinese people. Since the late 1970s, China, as the fastest growing developing country, has scored brilliant achievements in its economy and society that have attracted worldwide attention, successfully blazed the trail of socialism with Chinese characteristics, and made significant contributions to world development and prosperity.

China is now the world's second-largest energy producer and consumer. The sustained growth of energy supply has provided an important support for the country's economic growth and social progress, while the rapid expansion of energy consumption has created a vast scope for the global energy market. As an irreplaceable component of the world energy market, China plays an increasingly important role in maintaining global energy security.

Guided by the Scientific Outlook on Development, the Chinese government is accelerating its development of a modern energy industry, taking resource conservation and environmental protection as two basic state policies, giving prominence to building a resource-conserving and environment-friendly society in the course of its industrialization and modernization, striving to enhance its capability for sustainable development and making China an innovative country, so as to make greater contributions to the world's economy and prosperity.

I. Current Situation of Energy Development 

   Energy resources are the basis of energy development. Since New China was founded in 1949, it has made constant endeavors in energy resources prospecting, and conducted several resources assessments. China's energy resources have the following characteristics:

-- Energy resources abound. China boasts fairly rich fossil energy resources, dominated by coal. By 2006, the reserves of coal stood at 1,034.5 billion tons, and the remaining verified reserves exploitable accounted for 13 percent of the world total, ranking China third in the world. The verified reserves of oil and natural gas are relatively small, while oil shale, coal-bed gas and other unconventional fossil energy resources have huge potential for exploitation. China also boasts fairly abundant renewable energy resources. In 2006, the theoretical reserves of hydropower resources were equal to 6,190 billion kwh, and the economically exploitable annual power output was 1,760 billion kwh, equivalent to 12 percent of global hydropower resources, ranking the country first in the world.

-- China's per-capita average of energy resources is very low. China has a large population, resulting in a low per-capita average of energy resources in the world. The per-capita average of both coal and hydropower resources is 50 percent of the world's average, while the per-capita average of both oil and natural gas resources is only about one-fifteenth of the world's average. The per-capita average of arable land is less than 30 percent of the world's average, which has hindered the development of biomass energy.

-- The distribution of energy resources is imbalanced. China's energy resources are scattered widely across the country, but the distribution is uneven. Coal is found mainly in the north and the northwest, hydropower in the southwest, and oil and natural gas in the eastern, central and western regions and along the coast. But, the consumers of energy resources are mainly in the southeast coastal areas, where the economy is the most developed. Such a great difference of location between the producers and the consumers has led to the following basic framework of China's energy flow: large-scale transportation over long distances of coal and oil from the north to the south, and transmission of natural gas and electricity from the west to the east.

-- The development of energy resources is fairly difficult. Compared with other parts of the world, China faces severe geological difficulties in tapping its coal resources, and has to get most of its coal by underground mining, as only a small amount can be mined by opencast methods. Oil and gas resources are located in areas with complex geological conditions and at great depths, so advanced and expensive prospecting and tapping techniques are required. Untapped hydropower resources are mostly located in the high mountains and deep valleys of the southwest, far from the centers of consumption, entailing technical difficulties and high costs. Unconventional energy resources are insufficiently prospected, their development is neither economical nor competitive.

Since the reform and opening-up policies were introduced in China in the late 1970s, the country's energy industry has witnessed swift growth and made great contributions to the sustained and rapid growth of the national economy, with the following demonstrations:

-- The energy supply capability has been remarkably enhanced. Thanks to the efforts made over the past few decades, China has built an energy supply framework with coal as the main energy resource and electricity as the focus, featuring an overall development of oil, gas and renewable resources. A fairly complete energy supply system is now by and large in place. China has built a group of extra-large coalmines each with an annual output of over ten million tons. In 2006, the output of primary energy equaled 2.21 billion tons of standard coal, ranking second in the world. Of this, raw coal accounted for 2.37 billion tons, ranking first in the world. Daqing, Shengli, Liaohe, Tarim and other large oilfields have been successively built as oil production bases, and the output of crude oil has increased steadily, ranking China the world's fifth-largest oil producer in 2006, with 185 million tons in that year. The output of natural gas ballooned from 14.3 billion cu m in 1980 to 58.6 billion cu m in 2006. The proportion of commercial renewable energy in the structure

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