In releasing their first position paper on energy, mainland leaders have been brutally honest. They acknowledge the economy will need ever-increasing quantities of oil, gas and coal so that growth can continue and that huge problems lie ahead in trying to reduce pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. The challenge, they conclude, is not China's alone, but one that all nations must tackle together. China, they say, will do its best to find energy alternatives and tap domestic sources, but international co-operation is the only way to find an effective balance. Honesty is the best policy when it comes to the world's future energy needs. While the white paper has been a long time coming, with its release other nations for the first time know where they stand when competing with China for fuel supplies. Given the mainland's phenomenal growth, this may not appear difficult to deduce. Oil, gas and coal deals being signed between China and resource-rich nations are well reported and their size and frequency has been increasing. So, too, has the number of tanker- and shiploads of fossil fuels making their way to Chinese ports. The mainland produces a wealth of statistics about all facets of its development. There is no shortage of facts and figures related to energy output and fuel consumption. China Petroleum and Chemical Corporation, the nation's biggest oil refiner, said last month, for example, that the mainland would rely on imported crude oil for more than half of its supplies by 2010. On December 10, the company and Iran signed a US$2 billion deal to develop a southern Iranian oilfield. What clouds the picture, though, are the frequent announcements about developments in alternative energy. Often stated is that 15 per cent of energy will be produced by cleaner sources, such as hydro- and nuclear power, by 2020. Commitments to reduce a reliance on coal, the most polluting fuel and the source of 70 per cent of China's power, are also often stated, such as at the recent UN conference on global warming in Bali. Now leaders have made their position clear. Reducing energy use through fostering electricity-efficient industries such as those in the hi-tech sector and expanding public transport systems will be a priority. But while promising to develop renewable energy as quickly as possible and step up the search domestically for oil and gas, authorities admit that coal will remain the primary source of power for the foreseeable future. Until a cleaner way of burning coal is found and alternatives are brought on stream, they say, pollution levels will have to be tolerated. This is not what those worried about the effects of global warming on the world's weather systems and environment want to hear. Nonetheless, there can be no better way to get across the message that in a globalised world with China as its industrial driving force, co-operation is essential. Fast-developing nations - China, India and Brazil foremost among them - need help to create and put in place the technologies that will enable production of cleaner energy. The skirmishing over technology transfers to poor countries at the UN's Bali conference on a framework for talks on a successor to the Kyoto Protocol on reducing global warming highlighted the sensitivities; that no deal was struck and ways to make this happen are being studied shows the lack of a common approach. With increasing demand for energy and fossil fuels the most immediately available source, the world has no choice but to come to the aid of needy nations if concerns over climate change are to be effectively dealt with. In this regard, Beijing's white paper on China's energy outlook is welcome - and its call for the international community to work together is a sound one.