Beijing: 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 bn tonnes of oil annually if it consumed energy like the US, according to Xu Dingming, 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 4 bn tonnes, including 1.6 bn tonnes in commercial circulation, Xinhua news agency quoted Xu as saying earlier this month.
Officials are aware of 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 which 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% by 2010 and make renewable energy account for 16% of overall output by 2020, up from about 7.5 % now, as examples of a new outlook from Beijing.
Nowhere are China’s intensifying growing pains more apparent than in its burgeoning love affair with the automobile. 30 mn private cars are plying the nation’s roads, a number that is increasing by 20% annually.
According to Pan Yue, the outspoken vice head of the State Environmental Protection Administration, 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.”
Oil is already one of the huge problems facing China’s 1.3 bn people and inefficient energy use, shortages in land, fresh water, mineral resources and biodiversity will exacerbate rampant pollution and backward industrial growth.
China’s per capita arable land resources was one-tenth of those in US, while per capita water resources a quarter of the world average, falling to a 16th in the Beijing-Tianjin region.
China has to develop a new approach of industrialization, using energy and other resources more efficiently. The country should cut coal use, which makes up 70% of its energy production, and seek to burn it cleaner and more efficiently. Also much of its renewable energy use would lead to hefty increases in hydroelectricity and nuclear power.