With one of the fastest growing economies in the world, China is increasingly seen by many as a key player in the climate change dialogue. The Paris-based International Energy Agency says China's energy consumption has more than doubled in less than a decade, while its investments in clean energy doubled last year. Energy experts say that puts China in a unique position to advance green technologies and help reduce carbon emissions around the world.
Last year, China consumed more than three billion tons of coal, more than triple the amount used by the United States. But while China has ramped up construction of more energy-efficient plants to power its rapid growth, the World Bank says China remains home to the world's most polluted cities.
Christiana Figueres, the head of the United Nation's Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is counting on China to take a more prominent role in future talks. "I think there is no doubt that countries are embarking on a green race, that China is actually well placed to win the green race for the benefit of its own people," she said.
A U.N. report says China has already outpaced the West as the world's largest manufacturer of solar panels. And last year, China became the world's largest market for wind turbines.
Official Chinese sources say the country's wind generation capacity has doubled since 2005. But Lu Feng, who manages the Tianfeng Wind Power company, says wind energy represents only a small fraction of the country's energy output.
"Currently, wind power only accounts two percent of our total energy capacity (in Xinjiang). We expect the percentage of wind power will grow in the future; we are waiting for the next five year plan that has not come out yet. But for the next Five Year Plan we expect to have much more room to grow," Feng said.
Government figures show China has also taken the lead in clean energy investments, spending nearly double what the U.S. did last year. Despite those investments, the U.N.'s Figueres says 70 percent of China's energy still comes from coal. "The commitment to eradicate poverty cannot be based on the obsolete technologies of the past. But it rather needs to be paced on the new and clean technologies of the future," she said.
The International Energy Agency says China surpassed the U.S. earlier this year to become the world's biggest energy consumer. But China, which has for years pointed to developed nations in discussions about climate change, calls the report "unreliable."
China and the U.S. account for about 40 percent of the world's total emissions of greenhouse gases, which many scientists say is the major cause of global warming.