China Continues to Strive for Balance Between Development and the Environment

China Continues to Strive for Balance Between Development and the Environment

China has made progress on reducing its energy intensity, but there is always more to be done

This year, China announced a new, more modest goal of reducing energy intensity by 3.5% per year instead of the previous goal of 4%. Energy intensity refers to energy use per unit of China’s gross domestic product, or GDP. Possible contributors to the change in China’s goal are the global recession, which caused China and many other countries to put environmental initiatives on the back burner. Another probable reason for scaling-down its energy intensity goal is the fact that China has already exploited its cheapest methods of achieving energy efficiency, namely by shutting down older and more energy intensive factories. By already picking its low-hanging fruit, China must now deal with its more challenging and expensive industries, if it wants to reduce its energy intensity.

Despite these challenges, China nearly reached its goal of cutting energy consumption per unit of GDP by 20% between 2006 and 2010. In this time frame, China accomplished an impressive and close 19.06% instead, which benefits the global environment, as well as China’s energy independence and sustainable development goals.

But regardless of what effort has already been made, the reality, urgency, and gravity of climate change begs the question of how to push forward to a better future without sacrificing long-term goals of sustainability in the name of short-term economic targets. This is a problem that every country faces–not just China. We need to fundamentally retool our economies so that they are not seen as inherently threatened by environmental goals. Sustainable development, while sometimes seeming elusive, is necessary. Right now the reality of constant political cycles and the desire of politicians to stay in power discourages officeholders and policymakers from committing to serious climate and energy policy. However, we cannot continue to delay serious action.

This is not to say that taking significant and lasting action on the climate is easy. But we are certainly not helpless. One of the first places we should look is to ourselves and our own consumption patterns in our economies.

Referring to consumers, the China Daily newspaper suggested that “adopting a green consumption pattern will reduce the amount of energy they consume and encourage production of energy-efficient goods.” Indeed, we should not forget our power as consumers. It takes more than government mandates and policy to shift environmentally harmful modes of production. It takes consumer demand as well, and fortunately all industries respond to that.

Photo courtesy of Uwe Hermann