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Chinese leaders spelled out the nation’s energy and carbon dioxide reduction goals in late February, hoping to cut their emissions by 16-17% per unit of economic growth from this year to the end of 2015. China is the biggest emitter of carbon dioxide, the main green house gas from using fossil fuels which is believed to be fueling global warming. The goals for 2011-2015 is part of the Chinese governments pledge to cut carbon intensity by 40-45% by 2020, relative to 2005 levels. By pledging to an ‘intensity-target’, China is making sure that while the total energy-use and carbon dioxide emissions will continue to grow in line with China’s economic expansion, the amounts used for producing each unit of GDP will shrink. That way, the government is making a long-term commitment to improving the overall situation for the otherwise daunting environmental concerns of China’s rapid development.
Because, there are several concerns. The Chinese newspaper People Daily reported that China’s urbanization rate went up to almost 47% in 2009. In fact, it has taken China just 30 years to achieve this level, something that took Western countries 200 years in comparison. Consequently, construction has become the main task of China’s cities and this is increasingly being met with criticism because of the inconvenience that the building work brings with it. In Wuhan, the largest city in Central China, the party secretary of CPC Wuhan Committee which leads the construction program, insists on pushing ahead with the massive development despite local opposition.
Being faced with the criticism, the party secretary Ruan Chengfa said that his actions were borne out of his sense of responsibility as leader. “If I stop construction, I will be worried for the city and the people living here,” he told China Daily. His action, however, have sparked a national debate on the sustainability of intense urbanization. In Wuhan alone, 5.000 construction sites were simultaneously erected and the large-scale building works produced heavy traffic and dense pollution. In response, many members and delegates attending the city’s People’s Congress and Political Consultative Conference submitted proposals for how to solve the environmental concerns and the transportation problems.
But Wuhan is not the exception. A study by Climate Policy Initiative (CPI) shows that construction and transportation have become China’s largest energy-consuming sector and that when focusing on construction specifically grew 28% between 2005 and 2008, with carbon emissions rising 25%. The predictions are that if the country maintains a GDP growth of 10% and energy efficiency continues to rise at its current rate, the carbon dioxide emissions of China will reach 10 billions by 2015 – equal to US and EU emission totals combined. “By 2020, the amount will reach 13 billion tons,” added He Jiankun, director of the State Low-carbon Energy Laboratory, to China Daily.
These projections call for preempted action and the five-year plan is part of China’s effort to remain a sustainable society. The deputy director of the National Development and Reform Commission’s energy research institute has even recommended that, besides developing clean energy, China should gradually shift from being the factory of the world to developing its own brand or cultural economy, according to China Daily.
China claims to have met their target so far, having cut the amount of energy produced per unit of GDP growth by 20% in the period between 2006-2010. Reuters also report that the Chinese government is pledging to increase the proportion of non-fossil fuels in overall primary energy use to 15% by 2020. So far, despite the challenges, the Chinese goals seem achievable.