China and the US: Becoming More Sustainable with Energy Efficiency

In the push to save energy and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, all eyes are on the United States and China, the world’s top two energy users and GHG emitters. 

Recognizing that state and local governments possess tremendous potential for leading their nations toward a lower-carbon lifestyle, leaders from cities in the United States and China are working together to compare energy-efficient best practices.

China: Growing Population, Growing Energy Consumption

China’s population, which reached 1.3 billion people last year, uses more energy than any other country in the world.  In 2006, China surpassed the United States in GHG emissions for the first time, and since then its growing number of buildings and vehicles (China is building more than 1000 new cities to absorb urban migration) has contributed to a 34% increase in national emissions.

Solution: Energy Efficiency & Knowledge Sharing 

To help address the energy and GHG repercussions of its growth, China is pursuing sustainable paths forward. Of the 24 targets in China’s 12th Five-Year Plan, eight pertain to “resource use and environmental protection.” To reach these targets, China is focusing on energy efficiency and clean energy. In fact, China is incentivizing the purchase of energy efficient products through:

  • Rebates and subsidization,
  • Green government procurement,
  • Power grid R&D,
  • Stricter standards for businesses and industry, and
  • Replacing inefficient industrial equipment and power plants with newer, more efficient ones.

Since China’s previous Five-Year Plan was passed in 2006, the country has succeeded in reducing its economy’s energy intensity by 19% (in part because it has high levels of urban density, which means less energy use per person). The country also continues to increase its level of public transportation ridership, which in some parts of China is now comparable to cities of developed nations. 

To reach the higher energy-saving targets in the 12th Five Year Plan, Chinese leaders are looking toward innovation and comparing best practices with their U.S. counterparts.

Chinese and U.S. Leaders Learn from ‘Eco-City’ Exchanges

Eco-Cities Visited in the September 2011 Exchange

Berkeley, Calif. produces clean tech for alternative energy sources and fuels. It was the 1st U.S. city to allow public use of fleet vehicles and is working to build its green economy, with 200+ green businesses already. Berkeley hopes to reduce its GHG emissions by 80% by 2050.

Boulder, Colo. was the 1st U.S. city to adopt a green building code for residential construction and to pass a carbon tax. Its “B-Cycle” bike-share program and focus on walkability help shore up its status as “#1 Healthiest U.S. City.”

Denver, Colo. has a robust bike-share program and alternative vehicles make up over 40% of its city fleet; a 122-mile, $6.9 billion expansion is underway to the light and commuter rail system.

Oakland, Calif. has plans to become a zero-waste and oil-independent city by 2020. It gets 17% of its energy from renewables, has a Green Jobs Corps, abundant fresh, local food markets, the cleanest tap water in the nation, and a hydrogen-powered public transit system.

San Francisco, Calif. recycles over 77% of its waste, has a robust solar program, a carbon offset financing program, was the 1st U.S. city to ban plastic grocery bags, benefits from high population density and is very walkable. Siemens rated San Francisco the greenest city in North America.

San Jose, Calif. is creating new clean tech jobs through its Green Vision program. San Jose’s Green Building Policy supports its goal to build or retrofit 50 million sq ft of public and private building space by 2022 using energy efficient and green methods.

While U.S.-China diplomatic efforts are working to save energy in both countries at the policy level, the Alliance to Save Energy and our Associate members are working with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to drive energy efficiency on the ground by coordinating exchanges between the two countries’ local leaders.

Building on the 2008 U.S.-China Ten-Year Framework for Cooperation on Energy and Environment and 2009 Memorandum of Understanding to Enhance Cooperation on Climate Change, Energy, and the Environment, two recent DOE-sponsored and Alliance-led “Eco-City” visits between Chinese and American leaders facilitated best-practice sharing to develop solutions to the pressing energy challenges both countries face.

Alliance Supports U.S.-Chinese Efforts to Save Energy

In December 2011, the Alliance accompanied a delegation of 18 American mayors and senior officials to sustainable cities in China. In Beijing, Tianjin, and Langfang the American mayors learned about China’s clean energy and sustainability practices and compared the technologies employed in the two countries.

The visit followed a September 2011 exchange with the China National Academy for Mayors, which brought 19 Chinese mayors and ministry officials to “eco-cities” in Colorado and California. In the U.S. cities, the Chinese mayors – who represented a combined population of over 20 million Chinese citizens – learned how these cities have led the way in focusing on clean energy technology and energy efficiency (see box for more on U.S. eco-cities).
In both exchanges, officials examined the use of energy efficiency and renewable energy in buildings, land use, transportation and infrastructure through meetings with government officials, as well as discussions with experts from academic and research institutions and from technology companies that focus on sustainability.

During both trips, Chinese and U.S. officials shared insights on the regulations, investments and tools needed to manage energy-saving programs, and expressed interest in jointly pursuing clean energy business opportunities.

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Alliance International Intern Amber Saxton contributed greatly to this report