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China’s dramatic economic growth in the 21st century has made it not only the second largest economy in the world but also a powerhouse in the global energy system. Now, as the top energy consumer and the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, China is being closely watched and judged as its impact on energy markets and climate grows more profound. Looking forward, many issues are expected to shape the evolution of China’s energy sector, not least of which is its development status.
While China’s economic might makes it a superpower alongside the United States, it still faces many of the major challenges of a typical developing country, such as widespread energy poverty, including 400 million people without access to clean cooking, significant air pollution, and dependence on increasing energy use to fuel future economic growth. Its modest income per capita qualifies it as a middle-income developing country.
Evaluating China’s development status is not just an academic exercise. How China views itself and its challenges and how the international community classifies it carry real-world consequences that can significantly impact how the country manages its energy needs going forward, what fuels it uses, how it interacts with energy and other partners, and the level of its contributions and commitment to climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts worldwide. Understanding the nature and implications of China’s development situation can help in designing energy policies and fostering an international framework that better promote sustainable growth both within the country and globally.
This paper examines how the usual criteria employed by international organizations to determine a country’s development standing have become increasingly difficult to apply to China, given the dramatic changes it has undergone over the past several decades, notably from an energy perspective. The paper finds that China combines significant characteristics of both developing and developed countries and examines the energy and environmental implications of this hybrid status. The following is a summary of the main findings:
Rising debt levels and the ravages wrought by climate change present acute threats to achieving sustainable development goals in emerging market and developing economies.
As the world races to transition to cleaner energy sources, there exists a substantial gap between the financing required for this transition and the actual investments being made.