China’s Role in Reducing Carbon Emissions—A Review

By Paul Gipe

David Toke’s China’s Role in Reducing Carbon Emissions: The Stabilisation of Energy Consumption and the Deployment of Renewable Energy provides a valuable service in explaining–in English–China’s explosive rise to dominate world renewable energy development. Unless you work in the field you won’t realize that Chinese companies are leaders in wind, solar, and electric vehicles. If it wasn’t for Tesla in California, China’s dominance in EVs would be almost complete.

Toke is a Reader in Energy Politics at the University of Aberdeen’s Department of Politics and International Relations and an old hand in renewables. He’s well known for his analysis of community acceptance of wind energy and his advocacy of community ownership of renewable generation as a means to build that acceptance.

What happens in China may effectively determine whether the world can control carbon emissions and that’s why books such as this are important. China’s the world leader in emissions, but it’s also the leader in trying to reduce them. The USA has abrogated the role it has typically played for the past 50 years in leading the world toward collective action. That role has been taken up by China and Toke’s book explains how the Chinese have reached this point, why, and where they’re headed.

Much is made of China’s massive development of nuclear power. This is certainly true. Toke reports that the USA and Europe installed no new nuclear capacity in 2015. Meanwhile China installed almost 8,000 MW! However, often overlooked is that in 2015 China’s production of wind-generated electricity exceeded that from nuclear power by almost 35 TWh. Unlike North Americans, the Chinese don’t do anything halfway. They’ve made a commitment to a massive build out of renewable generation and they’ve yet to backtrack.

Toke’s 2017 book relies on statistics from 2015 and in the rapidly evolving world of renewable energy that’s a lifetime ago. Nevertheless, it’s the perspective that’s important, and the relative role that China plays on the world stage that’s relevant.

Since the book was published China’s role has only increased as the US’s has further declined. Maybe a new administration in Washington D.C. can reverse this trend, but the dysfunctional American government will be hard pressed to match China’s growth in renewable energy let alone exceed it.

In 2016 China surpassed the USA in wind-generated electricity for the first time and since then they haven’t looked back. In 2019 China produced one-third more wind-generated electricity, 400 TWh, than the USA, 300 TWh. And remember, the USA has been developing wind energy since the early 1980s. As late as 2005 the US was producing nearly ten times more wind energy than China.

China is the world’s dominant industrial power and where it’s headed is critical to the planet. That Toke’s publisher, Routledge, fails to state where the book was printed suggests that like much of everything else it was manufactured . . . in China.

Note: This is another book in a series that’s been sent my way to review or otherwise comment on. I no longer have the time or the inclination to read every book that’s sent over my figurative transom. These are all by highly valued colleagues or friends, the topics important, or the point of view well worth getting out to a broader audience. I am remiss in not getting to them in a timely manner. In lieu of just letting them gather dust, I am posting their bibliographic details and a comment or two.

Toke, David. China’s Role in Reducing Carbon Emissions: The Stabilisation of Energy Consumption and the Deployment of Renewable Energy. Abingdon, England: Routledge, 2017. ISBN: 9781138244412. $135, cloth. ISBN: 9781315276946. $54.95, epub. 0.5 x 6.5 x 9.5 inches. 168 pages. Country of origin: Not declared.


  1. Introduction
  2. An ecological modernisation theory for China and Carbon Reduction
  3. Curbing the concrete
  4. Carbon emissions and energy consumption
  5. Pollution – From Protest to good governance?
  6. Fuel switching to cut carbon
  7. Conclusion