Houston Community News >> China's Economy Reaching Environmental Limit

4/26/2007 AFP - China's booming economy is being increasingly constrained by shortages of energy and natural resources as well as environmental concerns -- forcing the nation to seek a more efficient growth model.

According to high-ranking officials in Beijing, there is simply not enough fuel around on the planet to sustain a Chinese boom using the same energy-intensive recipe that made the western nations rich.

China would need 4.5 billion tons of oil annually if it consumed energy like the United States, according to Xu Dingming, the vice head of an energy task force at the National Development and Reform Commission, the country's economic planner.

But the annual global oil supply is just four billion tons, including 1.6 billion tons in commercial circulation, Xinhua news agency quoted Xu as saying earlier this month.

Officials are aware of the looming pressures, but they also say it will not be easy to change an economic formula that has resulted in a 25-year boom with little attention to efficiency or the environment.

"Over the past two years we've seen a change, as the government has acknowledged environmental degradation is resulting in social instability," Yang Ailun, Greenpeace China's expert on climate change, told AFP.

She mentioned policies to improve energy efficiency by 20 percent by 2010 and make renewable energy account for 16 percent of overall output by 2020 -- up from about 7.5 percent now -- as examples of a new outlook from Beijing.

Greenpeace is supportive of the changes, but the government's difficulty will come in taking such ambitious targets and executing them at the local level, she added.

Nowhere are China's intensifying growing pains more apparent than in its burgeoning love affair with the automobile.

Thirty million private cars are plying the nation's roads, a number that is increasing by 20 percent annually.

According to Pan Yue, the outspoken vice head of the State Environmental Protection Administration, the government's car policy has also resulted in daily gridlock in major cities, already among the world's most polluted.

"Beijing has automotive exhaust standards, but the air keeps getting more polluted because more cars are being introduced," Pan said in an article last week in the Study Times, an influential Communist Party publication.

"We need to make environmental assessments that can set the environmental capacity of an area ... and ensure that economic development does not surpass the capacity of the environment."

Pan's article was focused on the need to incorporate environmental parameters into overall macro-economic planning at the central government level.

Oil is only one of the huge problems facing China's 1.3 billion people, he said.

Inefficient energy use, shortages in land, fresh water, mineral resources and biodiversity were exacerbating rampant pollution and backward industrial growth, he said.

"Our limited resources are being polluted and destroyed. If we continue in this way we will make all the talk about sustainable development empty nonsense," Pan said.

China's per capita arable land resources were one-tenth of those of the United States, while per capita water resources were a quarter of the world average, falling to a sixteenth in the Beijing-Tianjin region, he said.

"We face the constraints of energy resources and other natural resources (so) we cannot copy the existing consumption pattern of energy in developed countries," Zhou Dadi, the top energy planner at the National Development and Reform Commission, said in a speech late last month.

"China has to develop a new approach of industrialization, using energy and other resources more efficiently, even more efficient than achieved by the best practice in the world now."

The country would strive to cut coal use, which makes up 70 percent of its energy production, and seek to burn it cleaner and more efficiently, Zhou said.

Much of China's move toward renewable energy would include hefty increases in hydroelectricity and nuclear power, he added.

(Contributed by AFP)