China and the five other leading East Asian economies have grown 10 fold over the past three decades and tripled their energy consumption in doing so. They are expected to double it again in the next two decades as industrialization and urbanization continues apace.
That growth has come at an environmental price, but, the World Bank now says, these economies could stabilize their greenhouse gas emissions over the next 15 years without compromising growth. It will require “major investments in energy efficiency and a concerted switch to renewable sources of power”, according to the newly published Winds of Change: East Asia’s Sustainable Energy Future.
China accounts for 80% of East Asia’s energy consumption and 85% of its CO2 emissions. In its case, it will need to reduce it energy intensity by 4.3% a year over the next two decades, the World Bank says. Over the past decade it has achieved 3.4% a year. Beijing’s target is a reduction of 4.2% per year.
This is a daunting goal, as the World Bank notes, “given that China is at a developmental stage in which energy-intensive industries, driven by demand from domestic and export production, dominate the economy”. While China is developing nuclear power generation and low carbon technologies such as hydropower, wind, and biomass to wean it from its coal dependence, it will be structural economic change toward a less energy-intensive economy that will be the single largest contributing factor in cutting China’s greenhouse gas emissions.