Beijing Boosts Priority of Environment in Development Plan

7 March 2011

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao identified climate change and green development as central aspects of China's development strategy over the next five years. China's twelfth Five Year Plan (FYP), announced formally last Saturday in Beijing, establishes new targets for environmental protection and places energy efficiency at the helm of China's national development strategy.

The FYP identified US$600 billion worth of green growth initiatives including investment in budding green industries, locking carbon and energy reduction to 16-17 percent, and promoting a stronger responsibility system for energy savings and emission reductions.

Industries related to alternative energy, biotechnology, new generation information technology, alternative fuel vehicles and energy saving technologies are all outlined to be priority recipients of major investments under the FYP.

The new plan also sets an aggressive goal of 16-17 percent reduction in energy and carbon intensity - a measurement that links carbon emissions to economic output - by 2015, cutting energy consumption per unit of GDP 40-45 percent from 2005 figures. If realised, this would mean a significant drop in CO2 emissions from China - the world's largest emitter - despite evading the placement of carbon caps on its domestic industries.

China's chief climate negotiator - Xie Zhenhug - endorsed these FYP initiatives as placing "climate change and green-low carbon development at an even more important strategic position, raising countries' shared confidence in facing climate change."

Expanding power generation from "clean" energy sources such as nuclear, hydro, wind, and solar power plus increasing production and access to natural gas and oil, is also outlined in the FYP. Energy diversification is key to reducing pollution in China because 70 percent of energy at the moment is derived from the burning of coal, according to the Chinese Energy Research Society, a Beijing-based non-governmental organisation.

However, others are not as optimistic. Influential Chinese environmentalist Ma Jun of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs says China must recognise that so-called renewable energy projects - such as hydroelectric dams - can still have significant environmental impacts.

Greenpeace China also remains sceptical of the targets of the FYP, stating that the detailed measures that will be released by individual industries in the upcoming months will be much more important than the targets of the national strategy.

While China has long been known for officially shying away from the link between environmental issues and economic development, recent statements suggest Beijing may be shifting its approach.

"We can no longer sacrifice the environment for the sake of rapid development and rash construction," Wen said on 27 February. "These will only lead to production over-capacity, increased pressure on environmental resources, and unsustainable economic growth."

"China announces ambitious clean energy plans for the next five years," XINHUANET, 3 March 2011; "China pollution ‘threatens growth'," BBC, 28 February 2011; "China says it wants green growth within five years," AFP, 3 March 2011; "China sets growth target for new strategic industries by 2015," XINHUANET, 5 March 2011; "Water, CO2 the priorities for China's 5-yr plan," REUTERS, 3 March 2011; "What does China's new five-year plan address," BBC, 3 March 2011; "China Puts Forth Energy Intensity, Carbon Intensity and Total Energy Consumption Targets in Twelfth Five Year Plan," NATURAL RESOURCES DEFENSE COUNCIL, 5 March 2011.

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