8 november 2012

China calls for energy conservation

By Leslie Hook in Beijing The Financial Times November 8, 2012

China needs a “drastic reduction” in its consumption of energy, water and land, and will introduce new caps for energy and water use in an effort to conserve resources, the country’s outgoing president said on Thursday.

Speaking to the Communist party’s 18th Congress, President Hu Jintao delivered his strongest call yet for greater environmental protection. He spent about twice as much time on the topic as he did in a similar speech at the previous party Congress in 2007.

Mr Hu said China would focus on environmental problems that “pose health hazards to the people” and take a “holistic approach” to preventing and controlling pollution in water, air and soil.

China’s breakneck economic growth over the past three decades has been accompanied by widespread environmental degradation and pollution that has become a threat to human health as well as a frequent source of social unrest.

Last month, violent demonstrations erupted in the coastal town of Ningbo because of concerns about pollution from a planned petrochemical facility, the latest in a long string of environmental protests across the country.

As the world’s biggest emitter of many pollutants, including carbon dioxide, China’s effort to address its pollution problem has ramifications for the entire world. Chinese pollutants can travel thousands of miles to reach other countries.

Mr Hu emphasised the need for conservation and recycling as building blocks for ecological improvement, calling for “fundamental change” in the way resources are used.

“We should launch a revolution in energy production and consumption, impose a ceiling on total energy consumption, save energy and reduce its consumption,” he said.

Although Beijing has steadily tightened its environmental regulations and pollution standards over the past decade, enforcement of the laws remains lax. Officials increasingly worry that degradation is already so widespread it will soon become a bottleneck for further economic growth.

China already has ambitious targets to promote renewable energy and aims to draw 11 per cent of its electricity from non-fossil fuels by 2015. But Mr Hu’s remarks suggest that future energy policy will focus on conserving energy just as much as changing the energy mix.

To reach this goal, China will impose taxes for resource consumption and fines for ecological damage, Mr Hu said. China will also start trial trading systems for energy savings, carbon emission rights, pollution discharge rights and water rights.

“Energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP [gross domestic product] as well as the discharge of major pollutants should decrease sharply,” Mr Hu said.

The president added that the rapid expansion of China’s industrial and urban areas should be controlled.

“We should leave more space for nature to achieve self-renewal,” Mr Hu said. “We should keep more farmland for farmers, and leave to our future generations a beautiful homeland with green fields, clean water and a blue sky.”

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