China Efficiency Effort Criticized

2007-11-08
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Delegates to the recent Communist Party national congress have criticized China’s efforts to improve energy efficiency, voicing doubts that the government will meet its conservation goals for 2010.

China’s central government has been waging a campaign to cut energy waste since March 2006, when Premier Wen Jiabao set a goal of 20 percent less energy use per unit of gross domestic product (GDP) by 2010 as compared with 2005.

On July 12, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) announced revised figures showing that China had raised its energy efficiency by 1.33 percent last year.

That savings fell short of Wen’s goal of annual improvements of 4 percent but reversed the efficiency losses of the previous four years during China’s construction boom.

Then, on July 31, the NBS reported an improvement of 2.78 percent for the first half of 2007, compared with the same period a year earlier. But only Beijing had met its annual efficiency goal for the first half of the year, the NBS said.

In comments posted on the government Web site china.org.cn, delegates to the recent party congress raised concerns about the efficiency campaign that suggest problems with the statistics themselves.

Progress only in Beijing?

Since only Beijing appears to have achieved any progress, tougher steps will be needed to deal with pollution and waste, the delegates said.

“Energy saving and environmental protection demand our immediate attention and management,” said Wei Jiafu, a party delegate and chief executive officer of China’s COSCO Group. “We should be determined to abandon blind development and make the air we breathe clean.”

We just have the general feeling that those statistics are wrong. They may be corrected some months down the road, but you wonder even about that correction. The correction of Chinese statistics is always an issue.

Fei Yunliang, director of the Shandong Development and Reform Commission, also called for tougher measures to rein in wasteful economic growth.

“The current economic juggernaut defies scientific development rules, undermines productivity, and will eventually incur an environmental calamity,” Fei warned.

In an interview with Radio Free Asia, Philip Andrews-Speed—a China energy expert at Scotland’s University of Dundee in Edinburgh—questioned the accuracy of the NBS figures that claimed an overall efficiency improvement for China.

“[They say] that actually only Beijing made any improvements, which is a bit strange because I don’t think the size of Beijing’s economy and its improvements are enough to outweigh failure to improve in all the rest of China.”

However the figures are interpreted, “it is bad news because it’s saying that except in Beijing, the performance is no good,” said Andrews-Speed.

Robert Ebel, chairman of the energy program at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the delegates’ comments will add to concerns about the reliability of Chinese government reports.

More concerns

“We always raise our eyebrows when we look at Chinese statistics,” Ebel said.

“We just have the general feeling that those statistics are wrong. They may be corrected some months down the road, but you wonder even about that correction. The correction of Chinese statistics is always an issue.”

Both analysts agreed that the difference in results between Beijing and the rest of the country is a sign of the central government’s difficulty in getting provinces to comply with its programs.

Even the improvement in Beijing may be partly a result of moving high-polluting factories out of the city in preparation for next summer’s Olympic Games.

Jennifer Turner, director of the China Environment Forum at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, said that China’s rapid increase in coal-burning makes it hard to claim efficiency gains in any case.

“A couple of months ago the government admitted that, starting in 2000, they had expected to double coal use by 2020. But they doubled it this year. I think that’s the [statistic] you have to pay attention to,” she said.

“They have doubled coal use in seven years instead of 20, so how in the world can you say that they have improved energy efficiency?”

Original reporting by Michael Lelyveld. Edited for the Web by Richard Finney.

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