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Print Edition> Business
UPDATED: March 4, 2008 NO.10 MAR.6, 2008
Meeting Green Goals
The Chinese Government is scratching its head over how to meet its 2010 targets for energy conservation and emission reduction

What would happen if each one of the 1.3 billion Chinese citizens saved one pair of disposable wooden chopsticks, one piece of white paper and one New Year's card every year? This might be just simple math for most, but not for Li Tong, who has been obsessed with finding the answer. "The outcome is amazing," said Li. "The saved energy could probably power all of Beijing for a week, or even longer."

As a volunteer for an energy conservation and environmental protection campaign, Li has made a habit of reminding others to save energy instead of wasting it. His best way to do this is by setting a personal example. He uses energy-saving lights at home and never uses disposable chopsticks or cups. Even when dining at restaurants, he always asks to exchange disposable chopsticks for sterilized ones.

However, Li's example is not echoed by many of his peers. But Zhou Maoqing, researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences is an exception, and spoke out for Li. "Since the government enforced emission restrictions on enterprises, the voluntary responses of each person have become a pivotal part of the campaign." said Zhou.

Since 2006, the Chinese Government has employed a set of measures to smooth the path for enterprises to slash their emissions. Efforts over the past two years are now yielding results. According to an official with the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), China's energy consumption per unit of gross domestic product (GDP) had declined 3 percent year on year by the end of 2007, double that of 2006, which declined at a rate of 1.3 percent.

"China is accelerating its pace of cutting energy consumption per unit of GDP," noted the official.

However, the figure still lingers below the annual rate of 4 percent prescribed by the government, let alone the 2010 target of slashing energy consumption per unit of gross domestic product (GDP) by around 20 percent and the total discharge of major pollutants by 10 percent. As a result, China's fulfillment of its 2010 target has been shrouded in severe doubt.

"Energy conservation and emissions reduction should escalate to a general campaign and a change in the attitude of the public is the key," Zhou pointed out.

On January 21, the Office of the State Council Working Group on Energy Conservation and Emission Reduction announced it would heavily subsidize and promote the use of 150 million high energy-saving lamps. Moreover, the Chinese Government has ordered a ban on the production, sale and use of ultrathin plastic shopping bags, effective as of June 1 this year.

Headaches abound

Changes in attitude are also called for from managers of businesses as a number of enterprises have been found to be lax in their energy-saving campaigns. There are three disincentives behind their inaction: insufficient funds for the purchase and maintenance of new equipment, deficient technological support and the high cost of waste treatment.

These factors may sound reasonable, but to some they are just a lame excuse. Many successful enterprises have proved that it is possible to save energy and also keep production costs under control. Energy conservation has become extremely important for the sustainable development of the national economy. Investments in new equipment and technologies can pay off with gains in the efficiency of production and drops in cost. Those production processes that lead to losses once pollution treatment costs are added into the equation should be resolutely abandoned.

"The difficulties are rooted in the attitudes of people who are penny wise and pound foolish," added Zhou. "What if grassroots officials and entrepreneurs took a sustainable approach to development?"

Zhou further attached importance to the promotion of public awareness about energy conservation and environmental protection. Every enterprise, entity, community, family and person should be encouraged to act on their own initiative to take part in the campaign. These attitudes need to be incorporated into daily lives of the people, he said.

Beside this, the overheating economy is also adding to the headache of improving efficiency, said Zhou. "Inflationary pressures worsen the difficulty of straightening out the price factors."

According to Zhou, the current pricing mechanisms for some resources do not fully reflect their scarcity, the costs from environmental degradation, nor supply-demand relations. "In other words, these resources are used up at too low prices."

Currently, the campaign is still guided by the Central Government and enforced through administrative measures. The efforts of local governments and enterprises are being prompted by energy conservation targets set by the government, instead of through self-motivation. It still takes time to transform administrative measures into the reality of market adjustment and come up with long-term, effective systems for conservation.

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