Probing China’s intensity figures

Guest Post by Wu Changhua, Greater China director of The Climate Group

In his summary of the 12th Five-Year Plan on March 5, premier Wen Jiabao outlined an aim to cut the energy intensity and carbon intensity per unit of GDP by 2015, by 16% and 17% respectively. As with all publicly announced targets, this divided opinion. Government policy experts believe that it is an ambitious target that will be very difficult to meet, while NGOs, on the other hand, think it too conservative. They feel that another 20% reduction, as was seen in the 11th Five-Year Plan, followed by another 20% in the 13th Five-Year Plan is necessary to truly create a low carbon, green Chinese economy, causing greenhouse-gas emissions to peak and begin their decline as soon as possible.

The Climate Group carried out some comparison and analysis of this target, paying particular attention to the International Energy Agency’s “World Energy Outlook 2010”. Our conclusion was that the 17% target is consistent with the move to stabilise the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at 450ppm by the year 2100. This shows that China is indeed doing as much as it can to reduce emissions and save energy, promoting global action to tackle climate change.

The 17% target will not be set and reached in isolation. Rather, it is tightly bound up with national economic and industrial restructuring, closely connected to the development of new energy industries and technologies, and inseparable from the clean use of traditional energy and the efforts of society as a whole to save energy and reduce emissions. Reaching the target will require tough policies, laws and standards, technological innovation, sufficient capital, good infrastructure, and a long-term view of the market. Most of all, it will need the strong impetus provided by consumer needs.

The 17% target should become a strong factor in controlling and stimulating economic and industrial transformation along with a shift in emphasis from speed of development to quality of development. As Wen Jiabao said in his report, land, saving energy, reducing emissions, and safety should become levers that control and guide domestic and international investment.

The 17% target should not become the highest target that we aspire to – quite the opposite, it is a minimum target. At the Copenhagen talks, Wen Jiabao promised that we will do better. In order to make this a reality, a system needs to be put in place that will encourage local government and enterprises to use their initiative and creativity to achieve even greater emissions cuts and energy savings.