China is the world's largest car market. Will it also be the greenest?

Over the past two years, underpinned by government policies and growing interest in the private sector, electric cars in China have taken off.

China Daily/Reuters/File
An employee assembles an electric car along a production line at a factory in Qingzhou, Shandong province, China, October 31, 2015.

New data indicates China is poised to become the world's largest electric car market this year, surpassing the US, with sales projected at 220,000 to 250,000 vehicles, the state news agency Xinhua reported Sunday, quoting a press conference by the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM).

Globally, electric cars sales are forecast to increase to 600,000 this year, association deputy secretary-general Xu Yanhua told the industry conference.

In the first 10 months of 2015, sales of electric cars grew a staggering 290 percent year-on-year to 171,145, according to the association's data, Reuters reports.

Over the past two years, underpinned by government policies and growing interest in the private sector, electric cars in China have taken off.

"New energy vehicles," as they are referred to there, have experienced a surge in growth, thanks in part to the Chinese government's efforts to draw consumers to more fuel-efficient cars. At local and state levels, officials are quickly replacing their gasoline-powered official cars with eco-friendly models under the initiative, which has a mission of increasing national sales of new energy vehicles to 2 million units by 2020. Beijing offers electric car buyers a subsidy worth up to 55,000 yuan (about $8,590 USD), The Nikkei, a Japanese financial newspaper, reports. 

While policy makers are pushing automakers and consumers to go green, Chinese carmaker Geely announced last month plans to convert 90 percent of its sales to hybrid and electric vehicles by 2020, Agence France-Presse reports.

According to AFP, the figure "represents a radical shift for Volvo-owner Geely, an established manufacturer of gasoline-driven vehicles." Geely said most of its new energy vehicles would be hybrids, with 35 percent purely electric. If successful, the automaker could "single-handedly triple" green energy car sales in China, AFP reports.

Beijing's emphasis on more environmentally friendly cars, however, is not a cure-all for what ails the nation, which is the biggest producer of greenhouse gas emissions in the world.

Though electric vehicles do not emit exhaust gas, the power plants that generate electricity for them do. As The Nikkei points out, that fact presents "an especially serious problem in China," where slightly less than three quarters of all power plants burn coal as fuel, a practice that has been linked to the recent pollution levels and smog warnings in Beijing.

Still, the Chinese government appears to be taking a stronger stance on curbing destructive energy practices, and going greener on the road is just one move in an array of changes. The Council on Foreign Relations, writing on China at COP21, described the nation "emerging as a leader and convener for a serious climate change agreement." 

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