Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions: China Closes Highly Polluting Plants

The big news this week is that China is removing outdated equipment from another 2000 plants, and they are moving quite rapidly – the equipment is to be phased out by the end of September. These closures are part of the tougher measures Premier Wen Jiabao announced in April. While some have expressed skepticism about this move, because equipment rather than whole factories are being phased out, in fact, this looks to be a positive move. While China has made significant efficiency advances by closing whole factories, there is a limit to how many such highly inefficient factories actually exist. As the very oldest, least efficient have been phased out, more sophisticated policies that pinpoint problematic equipment are needed.

As had been widely reported, China is struggling to meet its goal of a 20% improvement in energy intensity per unit GDP as compared with 2006 by the end of 2010. The enormous growth in investment (total lending in China almost doubled in 2009) fueled by China’s massive and thus far successful economic stimulus program has made controlling energy use a greater challenge. The good news is that the Chinese government has been quite frank about the challenge and aggressive in bringing in new measures to address it. Analysts have emphasized that the 20% target is still going to be difficult to meet, but it is worth noting that even coming close will be a major change from the previous five year period, where China’s energy intensity had actually declined.

China Announces First Official Low Carbon Locality Pilot Program

The Chinese media reported August 11 that China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) has created a new program for five provinces and eight cities to develop low carbon programs. The July 17 announcement from the NDRC specifies that the provinces of Guangdong, Liaoning, Hubei, Shaanxi and Yunnan, and the cities of Tianjin, Chongqing, Shenzhen, Xiamen, Hangzhou, Nanchang, Guiyang and Baoding, will need to create comprehensive low carbon plans and the supporting infrastructure to achieve them, including greenhouse gas measurement and reporting systems.

China Struggles to Address Environmental Disasters

China is also struggling with protection from more traditional environmental threats. This summer has been marked by a series of major spills and other environmental disasters. While none have been quite as large as the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico, they have been significant, and have raised questions about enforcement, prevention, and information dissemination. As was the case with the recent US environmental disasters, many questions have been raised about the timeliness of companies’ disclosing information and the public’s right to know. ChinaFAQs expert Alex Wang of the Natural Resources Defense Council wrote an interesting blog on the need for greater transparency and effective implementation. China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection was only upgraded from a lower status three years ago, and in fact was an advisory body until the late 1990s. Effective prevention requires day in day out monitoring and compliance, so officials spot problems before they become disasters. These systems have improved markedly in the last decade, but are still fledgling compared to the scale of the Chinese economy. As China heads into its 12th Five Year Plan in 2011, it will be important to see what kinds of budget increases the environmental monitoring bodies at the central and local levels receive.

Photo by AdamCohn courtesy of a Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic license.