1. China, the new energy-hungry superpower
1. China, the new energy-hungry superpower
2. Fast-paced urbanization
China's urban population has gone from under 200 million to more than 700 million in just 30 years, with the Chinese authorities still striving to step up the pace of urbanization. Four of China's megacities – Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin and Chongqing (pictured) – have become so big that they are now governed separately from the provinces in which they are located. As a result, the country needs to add 88 gigawatts of new energy capacity each year – equivalent to the U.K.'s generation capacity – just to keep up with demand.
3. A booming automotive sector
China's middle class, virtually non-existent under Mao, has grown significantly and is using its recently acquired consumerist zeal to push the automotive industry to new heights. China became the world's largest car market in 2009 and is expected to represent a third of all passenger vehicle sales worldwide by 2020. This photo shows an interchange in Shanghai.
4. New-found global responsibility
The biggest consequence of the country's unbridled growth has been world-record breaking levels of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in absolute terms, putting China in a key position of responsibility in the global fight against climate change. In November 2014, the U.S. and China jointly agreed on ambitious reduction targets. Here presidents Barack Obama and Xi Jinping are shown officializing the agreement.
5. Overreliance on coal
While development has propelled China to the status of new world superpower alongside the U.S., the country continues to be dragged down by the considerable share of coal (75%) in its primary energy mix. Despite production falling in 2014 for the first time, China remains by far the world's biggest coal consumer. It also has some 12,000 mines on its own soil, such as this – underequipped – mine to the west of Taiyuan in Shanxi, the country's main coal-mining province.
6. Pollution, an ever-present threat
The air pollution caused by coal is of even greater concern to the Chinese authorities than the impact of CO2 emissions on the climate. In many Chinese cities, pollution has become unbearable for residents and puts their lives at risk. Here visitors are shown at the Temple of Heaven in Beijing during a five-day yellow alert for air pollution in February 2014. Pollution from burning coal claims an estimated 500,000 lives a year.
7. A nascent civil protest movement
In March 2015, Chinese civil society was rocked by a documentary on pollution by a former national television news presenter. Entitled Under the Dome, the film was viewed over 150 million times online before it was censored by the authorities. Chai Jing, the documentary's director, had been particularly affected by her daughter's illness, which was caused by air pollution.
8. Coal-fired power plant closure or relocation
Both state and local authorities have committed to shutting down coal-fired power plants that have been ringed in by cities due to frenzied urbanization, like here in Beijing. Four such plants were closed in the Chinese capital in early 2015. Coal-fired plants are usually replaced by gas-powered ones, or simply moved to out-of-the-way locations such as China's west.
9. Developing all forms of low-carbon energies
In a bid to diversify its energy mix without slowing growth, China intends to develop all forms of energy with a particular focus on renewables. Already a major producer of hydropower, the country is now investing heavily to double wind and solar power capacity by 2020 and bring their share in total energy production up to 5%. In this symbolic photo, solar panels are spread in front of the world-famous landscape of the Bund in Shanghai.
10. Hydropower: all eyes on Tibet
China already boasts the world's most powerful hydroelectric dam, the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River. Now it is developing hydropower assets in Tibet along the rivers of the Himalayas – to the concern of neighboring India. This photo shows the Zangmu facility on the Brahmaputra River near Gyaca, located 150 kilometers from Lhasa. Hydropower makes up 17.5% of the energy mix.
11. Giant wind farms
China holds the world record for the highest installed capacity, with 91.5 gigawatts at end-2013, and for the largest wind farm, the Gansu Wind Farm, also known as the Jiuquan Wind Power Base, in the center of the country (5.2 gigawatts). Here, a man walking down the road is dwarfed by the towering wind turbines of Zhemo Mountain, near Dali in China's Yunnan province.
12. Rising to the top in solar photovoltaics
China is set to overtake Germany as the country with the most installed solar capacity by 2020, with solar farms springing up throughout the vast, arid areas in the north-western part of the country. Shown here is the Hami solar farm in the autonomous region of Xinjiang. China's powerful solar industry, developed gradually over the years, has carved out a place for itself in the global markets.
13. Top spot for nuclear projects
China is currently by far the country with the most nuclear projects on the burner, with 23 reactors under construction and another 26 planned. It is expected to overtake France and the U.S. in terms of nuclear power capacity by 2025. After getting its civil nuclear program off to a late start in the 80s, China is making up for lost time and now even develops its own technology. Shown here is the Qinshan nuclear power plant in Zhejiang province.
14. A major oil and gas importer
China has become the world's leading importer of oil, and has significant reserves in the China Sea. While it is not yet a major natural gas producer, it has very high expectations for shale gas. In the meantime, it is buying up on Russian gas. The Altai pipeline will link gas fields in northern Siberia to the Xinjiang Uyghur autonomous region. Here Vladimir Putin is shown inaugurating a section of the cross-border pipeline in 2010.
15. Emphasis on innovation
China is at the cutting edge of several new technologies, including the electric car. It aims to produce one million electric vehicles in 2020, despite originally hoping for twice that. The photo shows visitors photographing a 3D-printed concept car at the Sanya showroom in Hainan province in March 2015. According to Chinese media, the car was printed in five days and weighs 500 kilograms.