China Falls Short of Stated Environmental Goals

BEIJING, China, January 9, 2007 (ENS) - China has "flunked the first test" in meeting the energy saving and environmental protection goals stated in its current five-year plan, the "China Daily" newspaper said today.

The target set for 2006 was to reduce energy consumption per unit of GDP by four percent and to cut polluting emissions by two percent but according to a new report, only Beijing and five other provinces or municipalities, which were not named, met these targets.

"From a nationwide perspective, it is certain that last year's energy consumption reduction goal could not be achieved," said Han Wenke, director of the Energy Research Institute, which is affiliated with the National Development and Reform Commission.

The goal set for the 11th Five-Year Plan covering the years from 2006 through 2010, was to reduce energy consumption per unit of GDP by 20 percent as well as discharge of key pollutants by 10 percent.

But figures for the first half of 2006 show energy consumption per unit of GDP rose 0.8 percent. Figures for the whole year are not yet available.

power plant

The Shiheng coal-fired power plant supplies the eastern coastal province of Shandong. (Photo courtesy CLP Group)
With 1.32 billion people, China is the world's most populous country, and together with strong economic growth, China’s demand for energy is surging rapidly.

China is the world’s third-largest net importer of oil behind the United States and Japan. U.S. government energy analysts projected that China’s oil consumption would increase by almost half a million barrels per day in 2006, or 38 percent of the total growth in world oil demand.

China is promoting nuclear power as a clean and efficient source of electricity generation. As of mid-2006, China had eight new nuclear power plants under construction, the largest of which is a six gigawatt nuclear complex at Yangjiang in Guangdong province, set to begin commercial operation in 2010.

The largest power project under construction is the Three Gorges Dam, which will include 26 separate 700 megawatt generators, for a total of 18.2 gigawatts. When completed, it will be the largest hydroelectric dam in the world. Several units are now in operation, but the project is not expected to be complete until 2009.

On the issue of emissions, the State Environment Protection Administration, SEPA, estimates there may have been a two percent increase last year in emissions of sulfur dioxide, which contributes to acid rain, and also in chemical oxygen demand, a water quality indicator.

But Zhou Dadi, former director of the Energy Research Institute, is optimistic. "Though the goal was not achieved, a good foundation has been laid with unprecedented attention paid to energy conservation," he told "China Daily."

Pollution and energy supply are not China's only environmental problems. China's urban areas will generate the maximum amount of garbage its cities can handle in another 13 years, the "People's Daily" reported Monday.

The China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development has warned that the garbage pile in 2020 will reach 400 million tons, that is, the volume generated by the entire world in 1997.


Trash bags and a city cleaner in Beijing (Photo courtesy Jason Barbacovi)
The council's latest report on the status and trends of solid waste estimates that 860 million people will be living in Chinese cities by 2020, putting more pressure on the already overburdened urban waste disposal system.

Beijing, Shanghai and Shenyang, capital of northeast China's Liaoning Province, are three biggest waste generators.

The Chinese government says it intends to put more emphasis on "environmental propaganda and education" to raise public awareness of environmental issues over the next four years.

A "Guideline for Strengthening Environmental Education and Enhancing Public Awareness on Environmental Protection" was made public Monday. The guide was issued by SEPA, the Ministry of Education, and the Publicity Department of the Communist Party of China's Central Committee.

According to the Guideline, the overall objectives for "environmental propaganda and education" by 2010 are to expand the influence of environmental news, provide more diversified environmental culture products and stronger guidance on public opinion, and actively conduct environmental education and training activities.


Nanjing Road is the main street in Shanghai, China's largest city with a population of 14 million people. (Photo courtesy Stephen Codrington)
"Publishing companies and film studios are urged to produce books and movies about environmental protection of good quality to help improving public awareness," the Guideline states.

In addition, the Guideline says the government should ensure the public's right to know, supervise the issues related to environmental protection, and set up and improve mechanisms of public participation in environmental protection.

Volunteers and nongovernmental organizations are encouraged to organize and take part in environmental protection activities, the Guideline says.

In 2005, there were an estimated 2,000 officially registered environmental NGOs in China, according to Elizabeth Economy, director for Asia studies of the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations.

SEPA has become a strong supporter of NGO activity, and works with environmental NGOs to achieve common goals.

The Chinese government has generally adopted a positive attitude toward environmental NGOs, recognizing that they fill a critical gap in the state’s capacity to protect the environment effectively, Economy says. "Still, Beijing continues to exercise control over NGOs through a range of regulations and restrictions, remaining wary of the potential of environmental activism in China to transform into a force for much broader political change," she told a U.S. Congressional hearing in 2005.