Black cloud over China’s green growth

China tripled its solar energy generating capacity last year and notched up major increases in wind and hydropower, government figures indicated recently.

But officials are still struggling to cap the growth in coal burning, which is the biggest source of carbon dioxide emissions in the world.

The latest evidence of China’s promotion of renewable energy has been welcomed by climate activists but they warn that the benefits are being wiped out by the surge in coal consumption. After burning an extra 95-million tonnes last year China will soon account for half the coal burnt on the planet.

At a key policy-making meeting in Beijing recently Liu Tienan, the director of the National Energy Administration, called for energy use to be kept below 4.1-billion tonnes of coal equivalent per year until 2015. If the proposal is accepted this will be the first time China has set such a ceiling. Until now Beijing has set goals only for energy and carbon intensity, which are related to economic growth and so fluctuate according to gross domestic product (GDP) figures.

But the proposed figure remains the subject of fierce discussion as it was based on an assumption that China’s economy will grow at 7.5% per annum until 2015, by which time the government is supposed to bring down energy intensity (units of energy per unit of GDP) by 16%.

However, provincial governments are projecting a combined economic growth rate of more than 9%, which means they will face a fuel shortfall unless the energy targets are raised or they fail to reach their goals.

Negotiations are held behind closed doors and are likely to last several more months but it is believed that the provinces are arguing for a higher target of between 4.25-billion and five-billion tonnes.

Besides being far from the reality of a slowing economy (the forecast for the first six months of this year is for no more than 7.5% growth), this prospect horrifies environmentalists. “If it goes up to five-billion tonnes, it would be a disaster; China would effectively be promoting high-energy, high-carbon growth,” said Li Yan of Greenpeace.

If accepted, an energy cap would become one of the most important industrial targets in the world because it would largely determine how large a mountain of coal China would burn and, as a result, how much carbon dioxide it would emit.

Depending on how it was structured, such a target could also help or hinder the development of the renewable energy industry.

Yang Fuqiang of the non-governmental organisation National Resources Defence Council, said Chinese energy consumption rose almost threefold from 2 000 to reach 3.2-billion tonnes of coal equivalent in 2010. On present trends it would rise to almost five-billion tonnes by 2020. “China uses too much coal.”

Yang wants the government to change its proposed energy cap into a coal cap, which would allow provincial authorities to grow faster if they used more renewable energy or gas. —

PW Botha wagged his finger and banned us in 1988 but we stood firm. We built a reputation for fearless journalism, then, and now. Through these last 35 years, the Mail & Guardian has always been on the right side of history.

These days, we are on the trail of the merry band of corporates and politicians robbing South Africa of its own potential.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.

Jonathan Watts
Jonathan Watts works from Bristol, England. Copywriter, Classics MA and author. Bristol, books, gigs, dogs. Jonathan Watts has over 100 followers on Twitter.

In East Africa, the locusts are coming back for more

In February the devastating locust swarms were the biggest seen in East Africa for 70 years. Now they’re even bigger

Western Cape Judge Mushtak Parker faces second misconduct complaint

The Cape Bar Council says his conduct is ‘unbecoming the holding of judicial office’

‘My biggest fear was getting the virus and dying in...

South African Wuhan evacuee speaks about his nine-week ordeal

Border walls don’t stop viruses, but a blanket amnesty might

Why South Africa should consider amnesty for undocumented migrants in the time of the coronavirus outbreak.

Press Releases

The online value of executive education in a Covid-19 world

Executive education courses further develop the skills of leaders in the workplace

Sisa Ntshona urges everyone to stay home, and consider travelling later

Sisa Ntshona has urged everyone to limit their movements in line with government’s request

SAB Zenzele’s special AGM postponed until further notice

An arrangement has been announced for shareholders and retailers to receive a 77.5% cash payout

20th Edition of the National Teaching Awards

Teachers are seldom recognised but they are indispensable to the country's education system

Awards affirm the vital work that teachers do

Government is committed to empowering South Africa’s teachers with skills, knowledge and techniques for a changing world

SAB Zenzele special AGM rescheduled to March 25 2020

New voting arrangements are being made to safeguard the health of shareholders

Dimension Data launches Saturday School in PE

The Gauteng Saturday School has produced a number of success stories