Op-Ed Contributors

Green light for hard targets

Updated: 2011-03-28 08:01

By Hu Angang (China Daily)

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Energy-saving and emission-reduction goals in new five-year plan will drive development of a low-carbon economy

Five-year plans (FYPs), which set down and clarify national strategy, are one of China's most important policy tools. They will play a pivotal role in putting the country on a green development path.

FYPs embody the concept of progressing by degrees, developing step by step. To reach a new step in development every five years is the methodology underpinning China's socialist modernization. This approach has been one of the driving forces behind China's economic progress in recent decades, and will now provide the platform for its green development. Climate change presents a long-term and all-encompassing challenge for China. It demands a long-term development strategy and broad goals, as well as near-term action plans and concrete policies.

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At the global climate-change summit in Copenhagen in 2009, China demonstrated it has the long-term political will to respond to climate change and to work with the world to limit global temperatures to no more than two degrees Centigrade above pre-industrial temperatures. In November that year, the Chinese government formally put forward its medium-term targets on climate change: A reduction in energy intensity of 40 to 45 percent on 2005 levels by 2020, and generation of 15 percent of energy from non-fossil fuel sources by the same date.

The period from 2005 to 2020 takes in three FYPs, the 11th, 12th and 13th. In each five-year period, national circumstances and long-term strategy will inform the selection of appropriate targets. In this way, further steps towards the medium-term development goals set for 2020 - themselves part of a longer-term green development strategy - will be taken.

One of the key strengths of Chinese socialism is its capacity for long-term, national-level planning. China is one of the few nations able to pursue long-term development goals.

Cutting greenhouse-gas emissions and building a low-carbon economy require an overhaul of both our mode of economic development and our lifestyles. Achieving this requires perseverance. This is where China's policymaking framework shows its strengths. China's enduring and stable political system, in combination with its five-year planning structure, will ensure that the country maintains a consistent, long-term strategy for tackling climate change, while at the same time formulating policies that respond to the needs of the time.

In our evaluation of the 11th Five-Year Plan (2006-2010), we found that its targets for population, resource conservation and environment were all achieved. Energy intensity dropped by about 20 percent as planned, while arable land was held at 1.2 million square kilometers, a higher figure than targeted. Meanwhile, water consumption per unit of industrial value added dropped 35 percent against a target of 30 percent. The coefficient of effective use of water for irrigation reached the targeted 0.5. And chemical oxygen demand (an indirect measure of water pollution) dropped by 14 percent.

Carbon-dioxide emissions also fell - by an accumulative 12 percent - more than the 10 percent goal mandated by the plan. The binding energy-saving and emission-reduction targets in particular showed the value of "hard limits". Major progress was made on green development, providing important experience for further implementation during the coming FYP.

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