Although a successor to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol has not yet materialized, the 2009 Copenhagen meeting underlined the importance of China in international debates on climate and energy. This is based not only on China's current climate emissions, but also on its expected energy use and economic growth. Within China, climate issues have, like environmental pollution more generally, received increasing government and societal attention, but so has energy – topics that relate to one other but also have different priorities and actor interests behind them. However, while climate change has become more prominent, as shown in the targets included in the current five-year plan, its institutional embeddedness in relation to particularly energy issues has received limited attention. This paper aims to help shed some light on how Chinese policies and governance structures on energy, climate and environment have evolved, particularly considering the roles of national and provincial authorities. Administrative structures and policy-making processes turn out to be very complex, with a range of units and bodies at different levels with distinct responsibilities as well as inter-linkages. Moreover, tensions and conflicts can be found regarding climate change and environmental policies on the one hand, and prevailing objectives to further economic development on the other. Energy policies serve the same economic goals, with climate change being most often operationalized in terms of energy conservation. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd and ERP Environment.