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How Does China’s 12th Five-Year Plan Address Energy and the Environment?

This piece originally appeared on ChinaFAQs.org

The draft of China’s much-anticipated 12th Five-Year Plan was released this Saturday, March 5 at the opening session of the National People’s Congress (NPC). The Plan will actually be brought to a vote at the close of the session later this week. While there may be some changes to the Plan, in past years these have not been large.

The 118-page draft of the 12th Five-Year Plan is not yet available online, but we were able to acquire a hard copy to review. In the meantime, Xinhua provided a summary of the major targets included in the 12th Five-Year Plan. In addition, a number of the key reports delivered at the first day of the NPC are also online in both Chinese and English, and these reports include the Work Report issued by Premier Wen Jiabao. Premier Wen’s Work Report includes both an assessment of the previous five years and a summary of highlights of the next Five-Year Plan. Our analysis below is derived from both the initial draft of the 12th Five-Year Plan and the Work Report.

This is the first Five-Year Plan that mentions climate change, and it's mentioned at the top of the environmental section.

What’s notable in the Plan and the Work Report is the prominent position of both climate change and environmental issues, in addition to energy. Indeed, not only is this the first Five-Year Plan that mentions climate change, but it is mentioned at the top of the environmental section. There is also a full paragraph detailing China’s commitment to international cooperation and the UN-led climate negotiation process, including concerns of climate finance and technology transfer. The Plan also discusses the need to implement more climate adaptation-related policies, such as greater preparedness for extreme weather events.

Energy and Climate Targets:

As expected, there are separate targets for energy intensity (16 percent reduction by 2015) and CO2 emissions per unit GDP (17 percent reduction by 2015). These are within the expected range and congruent with the 40 to 45 percent reduction in carbon intensity from 2005 levels that was first announced in the Copenhagen talks and reaffirmed in Cancun this past November. Clearly defined and distinct energy and CO2 emissions targets will help ensure provinces implement energy policies with carbon goals clearly in mind. Somewhat surprisingly, there was no mention of a total energy consumption target, which was recently announced by China’s former Minister in charge of the National Energy Administration, Zhang Guobao. It will be interesting to see whether this emerges in the specific energy-sector plan that will come later this spring.

The draft Plan and Work Reports also include noteworthy policies in:

Forests:

China has been steadily increasing forest cover since the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949. This next five year plan goes a significant distance toward meeting China’s Copenhagen commitment on forests. In the Plan itself the Chinese government set a goal to increase the area of forest cover by 12.5 million hectares by 2015, while in Premier Wen’s Work Report, he announced a forest stock volume goal of 600 million m3. While the forest cover area goal seems more or less in line with the already stated 2020 goal to increase forest cover by 40 million hectares over 2005 levels, the volume stock target seems more ambitious because it seeks to achieve almost half of the 15-year target of 1.3 billion cubic meters by year 2020.

Tracking Implementation:

To achieve these climate and energy targets, the level of detail and specificity, covering a full range of resource and environmental issues, provided in the Plan and the Work Reports are impressive. Premier Wen stated that China would put in place “well-equipped statistical and monitoring systems for greenhouse gas emissions, energy conservation and emissions reductions” to ensure these policies are tracked and properly implemented.

Efficiency:

China has had a particularly successful track record on industrial energy efficiency in the previous five years. In the new Plan, there are both new policies to promote greater industrial efficiency, and a major push to include all other sectors of the economy, including both new and existing buildings. For example, the Plan introduces a 10,000 Enterprises Program. While we don’t have details as to what this program will be, it appears to be a ramp up of the successful Top 1,000 enterprises program. We’ll certainly be following this development closely in the coming months.

Following the endorsement of new types of mechanisms in the October Party Plenum Document, the Plan specifically endorses market approaches like energy service companies (ESCOs) that help to finance energy efficiency.

Transport:

While China certainly has plans for additional air and road transport, what is striking is the commitment to rail, both long distance and in urban mass transit. The Plan includes proposals for the construction of 35,000 km of high-speed rail and a goal to connect every city with a population greater than 500,000. There are also plans to improve subway and light rail in cities that already have urban transit systems, building new systems in at least nine other cities, and making plans for six or more cities. We expect to see more detail and perhaps more cities as the sector-specific plan becomes available.

Non-fossil energy:

The Plan incorporates the goal of 11.4 percent non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption by 2015 announced by Zhang Guobao last month. China continues to exceed earlier targets in non-fossil development. For example, the five-year target for wind is 70 gigawatts of additional installation, which exceeds the 2020 target of just a few years ago. For nuclear, the plan is to install 40 additional gigawatts of capacity by 2015. China currently has around 10 GW of installed nuclear capacity now, which means that if this five-year target is achieved, China is likely to exceed even the expectation of 70 GW by 2020 discussed a year ago. If China achieves these numbers, it will have the world’s highest installed capacity of nuclear energy by 2020.

Environment:

The Plan itself does not make clear the specific targets for major environmental pollutants. However, they were all announced at an official NPC-connected press conference. On March 6, Zhang Ping, Director of the National Development and Reform Commission, stated that the reduction targets for Chemical Oxygen Demand (COD) and Sulfur Dioxide (SO2) are 8 percent, while ammonia nitrogen and nitrogen oxides are 10 percent. Director Zhang also said that these targets would be made binding for the first time in the 12th Five-Year Plan, as well as an “index evaluation system” implemented to allocate targets to provinces and ensure they are on track to meet reductions. We are not clear on exactly how these targets will be made binding, whether there will be additional documents at this NPC, or whether they will be binding in a later sector-specific plan.

While the Plan itself is general on targets, it is much more specific on policies. It assigns specific targets for cities required to reach new motor vehicle emission standards and sets goals for a wide variety of environmental infrastructure, including wastewater and solid waste treatment. There is also a strong emphasis on reuse and recycling, or what the Chinese call “circular economy.”

China is a middle-income, developing country and the next five years is when it needs to put in place the infrastructure that will enable it to develop successfully into a high-income developing country and beyond. There’s a clear recognition in these plans of the importance of environmental sustainability in being able to reach not just higher levels of income and but also increased welfare of the Chinese people. The Plan itself is highly specific in some areas but also in others somewhat unclear (for instance, target pollutants). Much of the clarity in implementation comes through sectoral plans and later regulations and guidance. We will continue to track policy implementation as it unfolds.


Angel Hsu is a doctoral student at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. She is a former WRI employee and an expert on ChinaFAQS.org

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