China's evolving stance on climate change cannot be viewed in isolation. Recognizing the difficulties the country faces in transitioning from coal and the geopolitical tensions it experiences, it is clear that collaboration and balanced international dialogue are essential for addressing climate change effectively.

  • Global energy transition is a pivotal and transformative process that is shaping the future of energy production and consumption on a worldwide scale. It represents a fundamental shift from fossil fuels, which are finite, environmentally damaging, and a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions, towards cleaner, more sustainable energy sources. The significance of this transition cannot be overstated, and it matters for several compelling reasons.

  • Environmental imperatives, such as climate change mitigation and improving air quality, underscores the urgency of this transition. Energy security gains prominence as countries reduce their dependence on volatile international markets, enhancing domestic resilience. Moreover, the transition provides substantial economic opportunities, stimulating job creation and fostering innovation in green technologies, while positioning forward-looking nations as leaders in emerging industries. This insight hence explores the significance of the global energy transition, with a particular focus on China's positive contributions and potential challenges in its role in the global energy transition.

China's Commitment to Renewable Energy

  • As the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases, China's investments in these technologies underscore its determination to reduce its carbon footprint and contribute significantly to mitigating climate change. This commitment not only addresses environmental concerns but also positions China as a key global player in the renewable energy sector, setting an example for other nations to follow in the pursuit of sustainable and environmentally responsible energy sources.

  • The Chinese government has set forth an array of ambitious targets in its relentless pursuit of a more sustainable and environmentally responsible energy landscape. Notably, they seek to significantly expand their renewable energy capacity, with a primary focus on wind and solar power, with a monumental goal of achieving 1,200 GW of combined capacity by 2030. Furthermore, China has made a resounding commitment to address climate change by pledging to attain carbon neutrality by 2060. This overarching goal necessitates a substantial reduction in fossil fuel dependency, with non-fossil fuels targeted to comprise 20 percent of the nation's total energy consumption by 2030. In the transportation sector, the government is propelling the widespread adoption of electric vehicles (EVs), with the aim of new energy vehicles constituting 40 percent of total new vehicle sales by 2030. These ambitious targets collectively reflect China's unwavering dedication to environmental stewardship and clean energy.

  • Data from China's National Energy Administration (NEA) reveal significant growth in non-fossil energy use, positioning China as an energy efficiency leader. China currently possesses the world's largest clean power generating system, with hydro, wind, solar, biomass, and nuclear power leading the way, with renewable energy capacity exceeding coal power. With over 300 Chinese companies, including major players such as CATL, BYD, CALB, Gotion, and DESAY, attending the "RE+ 2023" clean energy exhibition in Las Vegas, Nevada, they demonstrated a wide spectrum of clean energy solutions such as solar, energy storage, hydrogen, EV infrastructure, microgrids, and wind technologies. By significantly expanding its renewable energy capacity and spearheading the adoption of wind, solar, and hydroelectric power, China showcases to the world, the feasibility of large-scale renewable energy adoption.

  • The policy effectiveness of these commitments is evident on several fronts. Notably, the country has experienced remarkable growth in its renewable energy capacity, with significant increases in the installation of wind turbines and solar panels, underlining the success of policies promoting clean energy sources. This expansion has led to a discernible reduction in carbon intensity, reflecting the decoupling of economic growth from emissions growth. However, it is essential to recognize that China, despite its substantial investments in renewable energy, remains the world's largest consumer of coal, and this reliance poses a significant challenge to its commitment to reducing emissions. The transition from coal to cleaner energy sources is a complex and daunting task, requiring meticulous planning and economic adjustments. Beijing's energy security and the potential job displacement in coal-dependent regions are genuine concerns that must be addressed. While significant progress has been made in expanding renewable energy capacity, there are concerns about the reliability and integration of these intermittent energy sources into the grid. Energy storage and grid infrastructure development are crucial for maintaining a stable energy supply. Balancing the phase-out of coal with the rapid deployment of renewables presents its set of challenges, including economic transitions in coal-dependent regions.

Advancements in Technology and Innovation

  • China's relentless pursuit of innovation and technological advancement in the energy sector is also another accelerating commitment, facilitating the global transition to cleaner, more sustainable energy solutions. These cutting-edge technologies further contribute to the global energy landscape. Furthermore, China’s investments in energy-related technologies, such as electric vehicles (EVs), battery storage, and smart grid systems, are both extensive and strategic. Not only has China become a global leader in the EV market through substantial financial and policy support, driving innovation and mass adoption, it is also at the forefront of battery technology development, aiming to secure a dominant position in the growing energy storage market. Its commitment to advancing smart grid systems underscores a comprehensive approach to optimizing energy distribution and consumption. However, there are concerns about data accuracy and transparency in its reported progress, which need to be addressed. Additionally, while China has become a global leader in the electric vehicle market, the dominance of certain Chinese companies in this sector can raise questions about market competition and fairness.

The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)

  • Another facilitator of China's contribution to the global dissemination of clean energy technologies and infrastructure is its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Through extensive investments and partnerships, the BRI has supported the construction of renewable energy projects, such as wind and solar farms, as well as the development of sustainable transportation infrastructure, including electric vehicle charging networks. By extending its green energy expertise to partner nations, China has been instrumental in fostering the adoption of clean technologies, contributing to a more sustainable and environmentally responsible future along the BRI corridors. For instance, Pakistan has benefited from the BRI through renewable energy projects, including the Quaid-e-Azam Solar Power Park and the Sahiwal Coal Power Project, which have increased the share of clean energy in the country's energy mix. In Central Asia, Kazakhstan has seen the development of wind and solar projects, while Southeast Asian nations like Malaysia and Indonesia have received support for clean energy infrastructure. Moreover, African countries, including Kenya, Egypt, and Ethiopia, have experienced the construction of renewable energy projects, contributing to sustainable development and a reduced carbon footprint in their respective regions. These examples demonstrate the widespread influence and impact of China's BRI in fostering clean technologies and environmental responsibility across diverse nations.

  • These adoptions have significant diplomatic, economic, and environmental ramifications. Diplomatically, it fosters stronger ties between China and participating nations, in turn enhancing Beijing's global influence and soft power. Economically, it creates new opportunities for international trade and investment, stimulating economic growth and job creation in both China and partner countries. Environmentally, the global proliferation of clean energy mitigates carbon emissions, addressing climate change and reducing air pollution, offering a shared benefit to the planet.

  • While this has economic and diplomatic benefits, there are concerns about potential environmental risks associated with some BRI projects encompassing habitat disruption, biodiversity loss, air and water pollution, climate impact, resource overuse, and the lack of transparency in environmental assessments. Projects such as large-scale infrastructure development, power plants, and resource-intensive ventures have led to habitat destruction, potential species endangerment, and increased emissions. Hence, it is imperative to address and mitigate these environmental risks by promoting greater transparency, comprehensive environmental assessments, adherence to international environmental standards, and the adoption of sustainable practices to ensure the long-term sustainability and environmental responsibility of BRI projects.

Global Partnerships and Climate Diplomacy

  • China's transformation from considering itself a developing nation with limited climate responsibilities to a global leader in renewable energy (RE) is underscored by its ambitious climate targets, including peaking carbon emissions before 2030 and achieving carbon neutrality by 2060. These commitments represent a profound shift in policy, reflecting a clear departure from earlier positions and demonstrating a proactive approach to climate action. By the end of 2020, China had installed over 240 gigawatts (GW) of solar capacity and exceeded 300 GW in wind power capacity, reflecting its substantial investments in RE technologies and its pivotal role.

  • When it comes to international climate negotiations, China has shown active engagement in global climate agreements, such as the Paris Agreement, demonstrating its commitment to addressing climate change. Through strategic partnerships with other nations, China has cooperated on initiatives related to emission reductions, technology sharing, and sustainable development. Its partnerships with countries in the Global South, particularly in Africa and Asia, have expanded the reach of climate-related initiatives, emphasizing South-South cooperation. China's collaboration with Egypt led to the construction of the Benban Solar Park, one of the world's largest solar installations, with an initial capacity of 1.5 GW. In Kenya, the 50 MW Garissa Solar Plant, financed by China, is providing clean energy, and contributing to emission reductions. These collaborations not only strengthen China's diplomatic ties but also facilitate a collective effort to combat climate change and advance global sustainability goals.

  • In the last 10 years, the country is seen to have adopted a more proactive approach to climate change, for instance, the Peak Emissions Commitment wherein it commits to peak carbon emissions before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. This represents a pivotal policy shift with significant global implications because historically, China had considered itself a developing nation with limited climate responsibilities. However, this new commitment signals China's transformation into a global leader in emissions reduction and climate action. It marks a departure from its earlier position, demonstrating China's willingness to play a more substantial role in mitigating global climate change, which is vital in advancing collective efforts to combat this pressing issue on a worldwide scale.

Challenges and Future Outlook

  • Despite remarkable strides in expanding renewable energy capacity, coal remains a dominant energy source, contributing to high carbon emissions and air pollution. The transition away from coal is complex, as it requires ensuring energy security for China's vast population and industries. Balancing economic growth with emissions reduction is another intricate challenge, with potential job displacement in coal-dependent regions. Addressing these challenges necessitates a comprehensive approach that includes the development of efficient and clean technologies, supportive policies for transitioning coal workers to new industries, and strategies to integrate renewable energy into the grid effectively.

  • With its significant coal consumption, geopolitical tensions, potential economic implications, and concerns about data accuracy and transparency, China's energy transition presents a complex landscape with challenges and controversies. These challenges are undeniable and require attention. However, China has also shown a commitment to addressing climate change through ambitious pledges, substantial investments in renewable energy, the implementation of a carbon trading system, and collaboration with other nations as seen above. It is crucial to maintain a balanced perspective, acknowledging the difficulties China faces while recognizing the potential positive impact its efforts can have on global climate change mitigation, emphasizing the need for global cooperation in the face of this pressing challenge.

  • Especially when it comes to China’s geopolitical tensions, such as territorial disputes and trade conflicts, have the potential to hinder global cooperation on climate change in various ways. These tensions can strain diplomatic relations, diverting focus from environmental concerns to political disagreements. Competing interests in regional dominance may lead to a lack of consensus on international climate agreements, affecting the ability to set and meet ambitious targets. Moreover, these tensions can impede information-sharing and technology transfer, hindering the development and deployment of clean energy solutions. The broader implications of these tensions include a fragmented global approach to climate change, with nations potentially opting for unilateral strategies rather than collaborative efforts, which are essential for addressing this pressing global challenge comprehensively. Therefore, it is crucial to separate climate change concerns from geopolitical tensions to ensure continued global cooperation in the fight against climate change.

  • While these challenges and controversies persist, China's evolving stance on climate change cannot be viewed in isolation. Recognizing the difficulties the country faces in transitioning from coal and the geopolitical tensions it experiences, it is clear that collaboration and balanced international dialogue are essential for addressing climate change effectively. China's commitments, investments, and cooperation also hold significant promise for contributing to global climate mitigation efforts, emphasizing the importance of a nuanced perspective on these complex issues. Hence, the nation's policies and investments in clean energy technologies will likely set trends and standards for other countries, accelerating the transition to a more sustainable and environmentally responsible global energy ecosystem in the coming years.


  • In essence, China's actions and initiatives will continue to be instrumental in driving the transition towards a more sustainable and environmentally responsible global energy landscape. Chinese policies not only contribute to mitigating global greenhouse gas emissions but also set new standards for the renewable energy and electric vehicle industries worldwide. Moreover, the country’s Belt and Road Initiative extends its clean energy expertise to partner nations, fostering the adoption of green technologies and strengthening diplomatic ties. However, challenges such as coal reliance, economic implications, geopolitical tensions, and concerns about data accuracy must be addressed. Especially when, as the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases, China's actions carry substantial weight and influence, setting an example for other nations to follow.


Anakha S Thampy is currently pursuing her dual Masters degree - an MA in International Studies from Symbiosis International University, Pune, and an MA in Sustainability Science from IGNOU. Having completed her Bachelor's in Political Science, she aspires to make a significant impact in society by becoming a Civil Servant. Her research focus revolves around the captivating realms of Asian area studies and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Subscribe now to our newsletter !

Get a daily dose of local and national news from China, top trends in Chinese social media and what it means for India and the region at large.

Please enter your name.
Looks good.
Please enter a valid email address.
Looks good.
Please accept the terms to continue.