China Responds to Obama’s Energy Plan: We Already Did That

Yesterday President Obama set his sights on improving energy efficiency in the U.S. by 20% in under a decade. China thinks that’s a great idea–so great, in fact, that it did the same thing in less than half the time.

President Obama


Just as Obama announced his target to improve energy efficiency by 20% in the next decade, China responded by saying that it, in fact, had already improved its own energy efficiency by 20%–and in just four years. The clean energy race is on and Hu Jintao’s recent visit to the White House, coupled with Obama’s energy and innovation-focused State of the Union address last month, has the two countries vying to win.

The Chinese news agency, Xinhua, reports that between 2006-2010, China cut consumption by 20%, relying heavily on the changing practices of the oil industry, chemical manufacturing, and nuclear fuel processing, among other efforts, according to statistics released by China’s National Bureau of Statistics.

Meanwhile Obama yesterday announced his Better Buildings Initiative at Penn State, calling on businesses–specifically corporate business buildings–to join the clean energy fight. “Making our buildings more energy efficient is one of the fastest, easiest and cheapest ways to save money, combat pollution and create jobs right here in the United States of America,” said Obama. “To get the private sector to lead by example, I’m also issuing a challenge to CEOs, to labor, to building owners, to hospitals, universities and others, to join us.” Wind, solar, nuclear and “clean” coal were all mentioned as paths to a greener, more energy efficient future.

The move to engage both the public and private sector in the fight would appear a step forward in the innovation fight with China. As author and public policy expert Professor Kishore Mahbubani recently told Fast Company, “Everyone thought green tech would be based in America and Europe, but China is leading the way. And that’s because the Chinese government is supporting investment in this area. The U.S. is not–they’re leaving that to the private sector.”

So to the extent that Obama is able to balance responsibility and accountability from both sectors, that may be the key to winning the clean energy fight. And one big, politically helpful by-product of focusing on clean energy is job creation–a connection and goal Obama is very explicit about. The U.S. service sector expanded at the fastest pace it had in five years in the month of January, according to data from the Institute for Supply Management, and the service sector includes the construction industry–a prime area for green jobs.


About the author

Jenara is an overseas reporter for Fast Company and a freelance writer/producer in Asia, regularly on CNNGo, and a graduate of Harvard and UC Berkeley.