The plan is for China to become much greener. At least that's what Prime Minister Wen Jiabao has announced but Chinese NGOs are disappointed. They expected much more ambitious targets from the new five-year plan.
Environment-related disasters are expected to worsen
It sounded like a mini-revolution when Prime Minister Wen Jiabao spoke of restructuring the economy last Saturday in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. He said the growth model should become more sustainable. "We have to promote the protection of resources and the environment," he said.
But when it comes to the hard figures, the five-year plan is less ambitious than expected in terms of setting goals to reduce greenhouse gases.
Overhaul of energy sector needed
Beijing wants to increase the proportion of non-fossil fuels used in China from 8 to 11 percent and concentrate more on hydropower and nuclear and solar energy. However, this does not represent an overhaul of the energy sector, complained Li Yan from Greenpeace China.
The authorities want to develop nuclear energy as well as solar power
"Seventy percent of the energy comes from coal. China has to reduce its dependence on coal and the government knows this. But because the country needs rapid growth because it's dependent on exports and energy efficiency is so low, nobody dares broach this subject," she said.
Moreover, it is unclear whether the brakes will really be put on economic growth. Although the government has said it will aim for annual growth of only 7 percent, it made the same promise five years ago and that was not kept.
Provinces are set on economic growth
The provinces do not seem keen to rally around the center in this regard either. Delegates from the northwest region of Xinjiang were full of praise for the prime minister at the People's Congress, and yet at the same time they announced growth targets of 10 percent and called for more coal production.
"In order to drive forward the industrialization of Xinjiang we need to generate electricity from coal, we need the chemicals industry, heavy industry – we need all of these for our economic development," one delegate argued.
China still fuels 70 percent of its energy needs with coal
The goal stipulated by the new five-year plan is to cut energy and carbon intensity by 16 to 17 percent. But this is not enough said Li Yan because "China faces huge environmental and energy-related problems. The government has to give clear and ambitious targets from top to bottom so that there is pressure at every level and in every sector."
Other environment NGOs in China agree. The World Wide Fund for Nature recently said that green concepts should not only be an appendix to government policy but a central component.
However, as long as China needs growth to ensure social stability and the provinces cater only to their own requirements, the environment is not likely to be a top priority.
Author: Ruth Kirchner/act
Editor: Thomas Bärthlein