China's rapid economic growth in the past few decades has been accompanied by huge increases in energy demand. The Chinese energy sector faces the multiple challenges of mobilizing huge investment to keep energy supplies in line with increases in demand, securing international oil and gas supplies to meet the widening gap between domestic demand and supply, and reducing environmental pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Identifying China's approaches toward ensuring a sustainable energy future in the last two decades and assessing their effectiveness can be of great value to the future of energy policy-making in China, as well as to other developing countries facing similar challenges. This article gives a brief overview and assessment of the Chinese approaches toward ensuring a sustainable future. It starts with a description of the challenges facing China in securing universal, clean, affordable and reliable energy supplies, and the evolution of China's strategies for energy development since 1990. On the basis of an empirical review of the different policies and measures taken by the government over time, it explains China's approach to achieving the different aspects of a sustainable energy future. It then uses eight indicators to assess China's progress in improving the sustainability of its energy system. This article finally discusses some aspects that could be improved and the new directions and initiatives China is taking to tackle new issues in its energy development. WIREs Energy Environ 2014, 3:409–423. doi: 10.1002/wene.101
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Conflict of interest: The authors have declared no conflicts of interest for this article.