Because evapotranspiration (ET) is the second largest component of the water cycle and a critical process in terrestrial ecosystems, understanding the inter-annual variability of ET is important in the context of global climate change. Eight years of continuous eddy covariance measurements (2003–2010) in a subtropical coniferous plantation were used to investigate the impacts of climatic factors and ecosystem responses on the inter-annual variability of ET. The mean and standard deviation of annual ET for 2003–2010 were 786.9 and 103.4 mm (with a coefficient of variation of 13.1%), respectively. The inter-annual variability of ET was largely created in three periods: March, May–June, and October, which are the transition periods between seasons. A set of look-up table approaches were used to separate the sources of inter-annual variability of ET. The annual ETs were calculated by assuming that (a) both the climate and ecosystem responses among years are variable (V cli-eco), (b) the climate is variable but the ecosystem responses are constant (V cli), and (c) the climate is constant but ecosystem responses are variable (V eco). The ETs that were calculated under the above assumptions suggested that the inter-annual variability of ET was dominated by ecosystem responses and that there was a negative interaction between the effects of climate and ecosystem responses. These results suggested that for long-term predictions of water and energy balance in global climate change projections, the ecosystem responses must be taken into account to better constrain the uncertainties associated with estimation.