communications technology; for example, in some of the poorest areas of Yunnan, it is rare
for a household to have a landline telephone connection, but ownership of mobile phones
Although its dependence on coal and other fossil fuels will persist for many years, China
is investing heavily in alternatives, which policy makers refer to as “clean energy” ( qingjie
nengyuan ), “green energy” ( lüse nengyuan ), and even “low-carbon energy” ( ditan nengy-
uan ). 5 Chinahascommittedtoreducecarbonemissionsto40-45percentbelow2005levels
by 2020—not just in raw terms, but also in carbon intensity, which measures the carbon
emissions required to produce one unit of GDP, from a current level of 2.7 tons per $10,000
of GDP to a target of 1.2 tons.
The struggle to lessen China's dependence on carbon-based fuels is a difficult road,
marked by fits and starts and a fair amount of contention. In the international arena,
Chinese leaders are reluctant to acquiesce to policy agreements that compromise the na-
tion's unprecedented rates of economic growth, which have been in or near double digits
since the early 1980s. For example, Chinese representatives to the 2009 UN Climate
Change Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, pledged deep cuts in carbon emissions
over the coming decades. However, like the leaders of other rapidly developing na-
tions—including the other so-called BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, and India)—Chinese
leaders dragged their feet during the conference, which ultimately failed to reach any bind-
ing agreements between the world's largest economies. 6
Amid these seemingly intractable problems, there are reasons for optimism. The MEP
announced its intention to focus on co-control, reigning in both emissions of key pollutants
linked to adverse health outcomes and greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.
China leads the world in key areas related to alternative-energy development, including the
production of solar panels. Carbon dioxide emissions in the energy sector have leveled off,
due in part to more stringent policy and in part to improvements in production output per
unit of energy from the closure of many small, inefficient, coal-fired power plants (Managi
and Kaneko 2009).
Waterresources—and theircapacity tobeturnedintohydroelectricity—are acentral part
of this story. Government documents report with a measure of pride that hydroelectricity
output, which currently accounts for 16 percent of the nation's electricity portfolio, grew at
an annual rate of 12.9 percent throughout the Eleventh Five-Year Plan period (2005-2010)
and will continue on a similar pace for the foreseeable future (Chinese State Council 2013).
Now more than ever before, top leaders view water not simply as a critical resource in its
own right but as an important means for the clean production of renewable energy. All of
these factors place greater strain on China's water resources, which are limited to begin
with and which are not always distributed in ways that match demand.