for 20 percent of its electrical capacity, with nuclear, wind power, and other sources playing much smaller roles.

In 2006, China installed 101 gigawatts of new power. Ninety of those gigawatts came from coal-fired power plants. In 2007, China installed an additional 91 gigawatts of new power. “To put these astonishing numbers into perspective, Germany’s entire electricity generation system as of 2005 was 125 gigawatts,” said Gallagher. “India’s was somewhat more, but close to Germany’s level. So in 2 years China has built the equivalent of India and Germany’s electricity capacities combined.”

Coal is such a dominant source of energy in China that the country’s current mix of electrical energy sources probably cannot be altered anytime soon, Gallagher said. Natural gas is not commonly used for power in China because of its high price and lack of availability. China is aggressively pursuing alternative sources of energy, such as solar hot water and small hydropower, and is also building nuclear power plants. But the fraction of energy from alternative sources is still dwarfed by the energy coming from coal.

The United States has approximately 230 million cars, light trucks, sport utility vehicles, and vans, whereas China has approximately 30 million. However, the number of vehicles in China is rising dramatically. Partly as a result, China’s consumption of oil products has gone up substantially in recent years. Increased use has contributed to the recent increase in global crude oil prices. “Of course, the rise in world crude oil prices cannot be attributed only to demand growth in China,” Gallagher emphasized, “but I do believe it’s been a significant factor.”

The same thing is happening with coal, Gallagher pointed out. In the first 6 months of 2007, China imported more coal than it exported for the first time in history. China’s consumption of coal grew by 9 percent in 2007, which means that China’s coal consumption could double from 2007 to 2015 if growth continues at that pace. In recent years, China has been accounting for most of the growth in the world’s coal consumption. And as with oil, China’s increased demand for coal has been correlated with rising prices. Also, the Chinese government’s leading energy group projected that the country will need 384 gigawatts of new coal-fired power by the year 2020.


Today, total carbon dioxide emissions from the United States and from China are approximately equal. However, as with energy use in general, per capita emissions are much lower in China than in the United States. Also, to some extent, energy consumption is increasing in China as it manufactures more products for export to other countries, which can have the effect of transferring emissions from those countries to China.

Turning around the current increase in global greenhouse gas emissions

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