China misses emissions and pollution targets

5 March 2012
By Sofia Mitra-Thakur
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China national flag

China has failed to meet its own targets for soil, water and air pollution, its planning agency has said.

Beijing set targets for 2011 to use energy more efficiently, and cut emissions due to China's increasing dependence on imported energy.

China missed about half of these targets, including energy intensity, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions, and a measure of water pollution.

"There are a lot of complicated reasons for failing to meet the targets. The biggest is that we have not transformed our economic development model," said Zhang Ping, head of the National Development and Reform Commission.

"Our means of growth are still too coarse and our structural adjustment is lagging behind."

China's energy consumption per unit of GDP dropped by 2 per cent in 2011, short of a 3.5 per cent target, frustrating those who are attempting to change the economy so that it wastes less, and is not as dependent on coal and imported oil.

The failure to meet the energy target, as well as lower-than-expected use of hydropower due to drought, contributed to a poor showing on sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions, Zhang said.

Sulphur dioxide emissions fell by 2.2 per cent, below the 2.9 per cent goal, while nitrogen oxide, which was intended to fall by 1.5 per cent, actually rose by 5.7 per cent.

For many Chinese enterprises, it has historically been cheaper to pollute and pay the resultant fine than to install more modern, emissions-reducing equipment.

China also missed its target for chemical oxygen demand, a measure of water pollution. That dropped by 2 per cent in 2011, rather than by 2.5 per cent.

The targets for reducing energy use and emissions are central to China's arguments internationally that it is reining in pollution.

Pollution is also a growing source of concern for China's prosperous urban residents, as well as a contributing factor in rural unrest.

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