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Five Steps to Prevent Future Energy Woes

By Zhou Dadi

Conservation should be the top priority in formulating China's mid- and long-term energy strategies.

This is a necessary option dictated by the need for long-term harmonious and sustainable development. This is also based on the consideration of China's reality, reflecting the country's determination to take a new type of approach to industrialization. Broadening the sources of supply and economizing consumption is the way forward.

The Fifth Plenary Session of 16th Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party (CPC), which was convened recently, made it clear that resource conservation, and energy saving in particular, should be a vitally important aspect of the basic national policy.

In addition, in the CPC Central Committee's proposals for drafting the 11th Five-Year Plan (2006-10), there are only two quantitative development goals. One is that the per capita GDP of the country is set to double by 2010 compared with 2000. The other is that energy volume consumed in turning out a certain unit of GDP should drop by 20 percent. This further shows that the central authorities have put the energy issue very high on the agenda.

Dictated by this, the annual energy saving rate is supposed to reach 4.5 percent, which is a pretty hard task to fulfil. If we manage to achieve this goal, we will set a good example for other developing countries in the course of their industrialization. China simply cannot tread on the footsteps of others in its modernization drive, especially considering the country's specific conditions and the poor prospects of the world energy market.

Per capita energy consumption in China every year is currently 1 ton of standard oil, meaning other forms of energy such as coal and gas are also converted into oil according to their fuel value. But the average energy consumption of developed countries stands at 4 tons. In the United States, however, the per capita energy consumption is 8 tons of standard oil. China, considering its huge population, simply cannot afford that level of consumption.

Our goal is to realize modernization through low per capita energy consumption, which means much lower than the per capita 4-ton standard oil consumption in developed countries.

As a result, we should not regard the growth of GDP as the only indicator to measure our development. Instead, sustainable development and rational energy consumption have become important targets.

First, in order to bring about an energy-saving and environmentally friendly society, we should strengthen energy management and refrain from launching large-scale energy-consuming industrial projects. The central government has decided that 10 major energy-saving projects will be launched during the 11th Five-Year period, bringing in billions of yuan in investment.

At the same time, education on energy saving and publicity campaigns in this regard should be strengthened in order to nurture energy-saving awareness among the general public. Energy frugality is not only a matter of industrial structure, but also a matter that will have great impact on the consumption mode of future Chinese society.

Second, energy-supply sources should be pluralized and the country's own energy resources including coal, petroleum, natural gas, hydraulic power and renewable energy resources should be tapped to the full.

The country burns 2 billion tons of coal yearly and no other form of energy is likely to replace it in the foreseeable future. So we should upgrade the mode of coal burning.

If China's per capita coal consumption volume drops to the level of Europe, we would need to import more than 500 million tons of petroleum each year. This is an impossible burden given the current world oil market.

China currently consumes huge quantities of coal because it has no other choice. What we should do under such circumstances is to efficiently prevent coal mine accidents and pollution caused by coal firing, and use coal more economically.

At the same time, development of nuclear power, hydraulic power and natural gas should be strengthened, as part of the effort to optimize our energy resource mix.

Renewable energy resources need to be tapped so that this kind of energy can play a supporting role and, in turn, help ease energy supply strains.

Third, international co-operation in energy resources is called for. When China goes upstream into the field of international oil and gas exploration, it will help increase the global energy supplies and balance the market. Doing this will also help improve China's ability of withstanding the impacts brought by international oil price fluctuations.

In international co-operation, China should become involved in market competition, and pursue its own interests while avoiding international clashes. Besides, we should help improve the international energy-supply security structure. The current framework cannot be said to be sound and complete. For example, Asian countries do not constitute the focus in this structure, and it also fails to make provisions for developing countries' increasing energy demands.

Fourth, energy-related environmental questions should be dealt with. Besides our country's own energy-related pollution such as atmospheric pollution, we should also address bigger issues such as global warming.

Fifth, energy-related technologies should be developed in a bid to find a long-term solution. This includes energy-saving technologies, and substitution-energy technologies.

We believe that China can resolve the problems it is facing in energy resources, the environment, economics and society's sustainable development in a step-by-step way. We are doing our best to make contributions to the world's energy security while tackling our own energy questions in an overall way.

The author is director-general of the Energy Research Institute of the National Development and Reform Commission

(China Daily November 16, 2005)

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