The concept of “low carbon economy” was first put forward by the UK in 2003 in the white paper “Our Future Energy – Creating a Low Carbon Economy”. In 2006, the “Stern Report” led by Nicholas Stern, chief economist of the World Bank, called for global emission reductions and a transition to a low-carbon economy. It believes that the world only needs to sacrifice 1% of economic growth every year to avoid future economic losses of 5% to 20%. Zhuang Guiyang (2007) believes that the low-carbon economy is an energy revolution, which is realized through technological innovation; Xia Tuobao (2008) believes that low-carbon economy includes two aspects: one is low-carbon production; the other is low-carbon consumption, and believes that low-carbon economy is a sustainable economic growth mode. Yuan Nanyou (2010)) believes that low-carbon economy is a comprehensive issue intertwined with economy, society and environment. It is both a development concept and a development model, both a scientific issue and a political issue; Chen Liuqin (2010) believes that the essence of low-carbon economy is the improvement of energy utilization efficiency and the development of clean energy, including the optimization and upgrading of the industrial structure and the fundamental change of the way of survival and development; Wang Bo (2010) believes that a low-carbon economy must be based on a low-carbon culture; Yao Xun (2011) believes that the low-carbon economy is an economic form completely different from the previous economic development model, and it is a green economy; Cao Ying (2012) believes that a low-carbon economy is an economic development model with low energy consumption, low pollution and low emissions.
On the surface, a low-carbon economy refers to a gradual reduction in the total amount of carbon emissions or a gradual slowdown in the growth rate of emissions in the process of economic development and social progress. From a deeper meaning, if carbon emissions are regarded as an important production resource, the economic growth mode of high consumption and low efficiency utilization of this resource is an important incentive for environmental pollution. A low-carbon economy means that we should re-examine the traditional way of economic growth. In the case of the total amount of carbon emissions allowed by the environmental carrying capacity, the efficient use of this emission resource will bring higher economic growth with lower carbon emission input, and achieve sustainable social progress in which the economy and the environment develop in harmony.
Because the driving force of economic growth is multi-faceted, the understanding of low-carbon economy can also be multi-faceted, including low-carbon consumption, low-carbon investment and low-carbon export. This actually requires a low-carbon industrial structure to drive economic growth. The formation of a low-carbon industrial structure must be supported by a low-carbon energy system and low-carbon technology. Therefore, the core of a low-carbon economy is high-efficiency energy utilization technology, clean energy research and development technology, and emission reduction technology. From a political point of view, the degree of economic decarbonization is not only an important reflection of a country’s comprehensive competitiveness, but also an important way for a country to gain the initiative to speak in international emission reduction actions. As far as China’s reality is concerned, realizing a low-carbon economy is not only a way to deal with the international public opinion on emission reduction, but also the only way to build socialism with Chinese characteristics and practice the scientific concept of development.