China will emit more greenhouse gases30.09. 2006 Business
THE few remaining cyclists in Beijing risk death one way or another. If the city's 4m cars, jammed onto the multiplying ringroads and flyovers, do not get them, the polluted air will. It is so thick that you cannot see the sun, even on a sunny day. At present, rich countries emit more CO2 than developing countries do. But developing countries as a whole will overtake rich countries shortly; and China, the most populous of the emerging economies, will become the world's biggest greenhouse-gas emitter in 2015. Every year China builds 60 gigawatts of power-generation capacity, almost as much as Britain's entire existing capacity. Four-fifths of Chinese power is generated by coal, the dirtiest source of electricity. China currently uses 40% of the world's coal—more than America, Europe and Japan put together. Pollution has not been a priority for the Chinese government. “All departments and ministries are oriented towards GDP. Some comprehensive economic departments should be in charge of planning, but all they want to do is authorise projects. Local leaders are the same. So the Environmental Protection Agency is pretty weak,” according to Pan Yue, vice-minister of the State Environmental Protection Agency. But the government is becoming increasingly concerned about the problems that pollution brings, such as sickness from filthy air and arid soil from acid rain, which has made it keen to boost the use of renewables and increase energy efficiency. It is building huge wind farms on its coastline and even runs some hydrogen-fuelled buses in Beijing. Last year it pushed up fuel-efficiency standards for cars sold in China, and by 2008 it will raise them above federal American levels. The 11th five-year plan, published earlier this year, requires the economy to become 20% more energy-efficient by 2010. Between 1980 and 2000 China's GDP quadrupled, whereas energy consumption only doubled. The Chinese government intends to repeat that trick. But decentralisation, deregulation and a huge infrastructure boom have boosted demand for power, and China's economy is now becoming more, not less, energy-intensive. The energy elasticity of GDP (the relationship between changes in energy consumption and changes in GDP) rose from 0.5 in 2000 to 1.5 in 2004. “The government has lost control of industry,” says Jiang Lin of America's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Moreover, the goals of reducing pollution and mitigating the effects of climate change sometimes conflict. The harmful pollutants released into the air by coal-fired electricity generation, such as sulphur, also dampen the greenhouse effect. Take them out and your people's health will improve, but the world will get warmer, as the West found in the second half of the 20th century. China, too, seems likely to choose cleaner air.