Wen outlines aggressive green initiative in draft 5-year plan

China to build 235gw clean energy, cut CO2 and slash consumption
Date: 
March 07, 2011
China Parliament

As widely anticipated, Chinese premier Wen Jiabao outlined a stream of green targets and initiatives at the opening of the National People's Congress in Beijing on Saturday when he laid out the roadmap for the world's second largest economy over the next five years.

The plan, which is designed to help stabilize China's breakneck economic growth and put it on a more sustainable path for development, will be deliberated and approved by the country's national legislators at the Fourth Session of the 11th National People's Congress.

Wen highlighted the need for China to invest heavily in low carbon industries as a top priority, particularly in the areas of clean energy development.

Meeting earlier reports, Wen announced goals of building 235 million kilowatts of power generation capacity from clean energy forms in the next five years in an effort to stem the country's heavy reliance on fossil fuels and that China will raise energy efficiency in using coal, maintain the current volume of domestic oil production and facilitate a rapid increase in the production of natural gases.

According to the Xinhua news agency, the new energy target will be met through the development of 40GW of new nuclear capacity, new hydropower projects on the Jinsha, Yalong and Dadu Rivers totaling 120GW of capacity, over 70GW of wind power capacity and 5GW of new solar power capacity.

In addition to boosting the construction of nuclear power plants in the coastal areas, new plants are also planned in central regions while the draft calls for six large wind power bases on land and another two in coastal areas, and the development of solar power plants in Tibet, Inner Mongolia, Ningxia, Gansu, Qinghai, Xinjiang and Yunnan.

Zhang Guobao, former chief of the National Energy Administration, said that the plan was aimed at increasing the proportion of non-fossil fuels in overall primary energy use to 11.4 percent by 2015.

Wen also outlined moves to accelerate the shift towards cleaner gas plants, and increase spending in targeted sectors such as high speed rail and alternative fuel vehicles.

Moreover, the draft calls for the construction of about 150,000 kilometres of oil and gas pipelines in the next five years, including a gas pipeline to central Asia and oil pipelines to Kazakhstan and Myanmar.

Wen said the various green initiatives would be supported by overarching targets of slashing carbon dioxide emissions by 17 percent in the five years and to reduce energy consumption per unit of GDP by 16 percent.

Significantly, Wen said the government would slow the pace of economic development over the next five years to average GDP growth of seven per cent a year, in part as a result of the need to build a more sustainable economic model.

Speaking earlier, Wen said the plan would herald a shift in government thinking whereby it attempts to better balance economic growth with the need to protect the environment. "We must not any longer sacrifice the environment for the sake of rapid growth and reckless rollouts," he said.

Zhang Ping, chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission, told reporters that the new targets would be met without resorting to the drastic measures when government shut non-compliant factories and industrial plants to ensure energy efficiency targets were met.

The draft is likely to be welcomed by major environmental groups and NGOs, however there are some detractors who question some elements of the plan, particularly in relation to the aggressive hydro expansion plans.

A major new report by The Climate Group entitled Delivering Low Carbon Growth - A Guide to the 12th Five Year Plan, said the new plan will deliver real carbon savings, bolster China's standing in international climate change negotiations, and trigger a surge in clean tech investment.

The report concludes that China's low-carbon ambitions are accelerating and will bend the nation's carbon emissions growth curve in the next five years. At the same time the country's energy supply is incorporating more non-fossil fuel sources and low-carbon technologies will continue to develop rapidly.

The report concludes that the five year plan compares favorably with International Energy Agency targets for stabilizing atmospheric concentrations of CO2 at 450ppm and suggests China is 'pulling its weight' relative to international expectations.

Changhua Wu, Greater China Director, The Climate Group says: "China has learned valuable low carbon lessons over the last five years which have given the government confidence to deepen its commitment to a clean industrial revolution. Green growth is now at the very heart of China's national development strategy. These ambitious new policies will create the necessary certainty for the business community to ride a new wave of green investment."

However, despite the new targets, some green groups have warned that China's energy efficiency goals are largely in line with business as usual, while others will inevitably point out that the new environmental targets are undermined somewhat by proposals within the five year plan designed to accelerate the expansion of the country's aviation industry.

Meanwhile other green groups wonder how damaging will the new commitments be to the country's already ravaged fresh water supplies.

Hong Kong based environmental think tank Civic Exchange said in a report released this month that "to intensify hydropower development in the name of reducing carbon emissions without first finding acceptable solutions to these problems seems like putting the cart before the horse. It is risky to achieve carbon emissions reductions by sacrificing the long‐term well‐being of the people and the resources needed to continue development in the long‐term.

 

If the current plans for extensive hydropower development in a concentrated area in the Southwest are carried out hastily, the ecological and environmental effects are difficult to forecast accurately, but will be dramatic, far‐reaching and irreversible, the report said.

China is desperate to improve its depleted, contaminated rivers, which have been blighted by a spate of burst tailings dams, untreated chemical discharges and plant explosions in the past five years. In 2009, nearly 20 percent of the length of Chinas major rivers and lakes were judged unfit even for irrigating crops, according to government figures, according to a recent report by Reuters,

Quoting an essay by environment minister Zhou Shengxian, Reuters put the challenges in stark reality: "The depletion, deterioration and exhaustion of resources and the deterioration of the environment have become serious bottlenecks constraining economic and social development," he wrote.

Environment minister Zhou said Beijing will aim to cut 2007 levels of heavy metal discharges in key regions and industries by 15 percent in the next five years. "We understand thousands of key heavy metal polluters will be put under tightened monitoring and this is important," said Ma Jun of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, a nongovernment organization that monitors water pollution. "But there is a lack of transparency and we believe public scrutiny could generate the motivation to cut their emissions."

China will also push for more water conservation, imposing stricter water consumption standards heavy industry. "We expect to see more action on that but I still believe that the first step is pollution," said Ma. "The huge volume of wastewater discharge is destroying our very limited clean water resources and if we continue to allow that we cannot talk about recycling and conservation." But the commitment to cleaning up rivers could be undermined if binding carbon targets lead to a renewed drive for large hydropower dams and reservoirs throughout China.