No adjustment to China's environmental targets

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Chinese lawmakers Thursday urged not to adjust environmental targets though the progress toward four of them is considered slow.

A report, submitted Wednesday by the State Council, China's cabinet, told lawmakers that China is well behind on four environmental targets set for 2015.

The four targets are carbon dioxide emissions, energy intensity, nitrogen oxide emissions and rationalization of energy consumption, according to the mid-term evaluation report on the implementation of the 12th five-year development plan (2011-2015).

The Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC) are concerned about slow progress in environmental protection and believe the targets will push governments and industries to clean up their act.

"These are binding targets and should not be adjusted easily," said Peng Sen of the committee. "Instead of lowering them, we should be more determined to try all possible means to catch up in the next two years ."

In 2011 and 2012, the first two years of the plan, energy intensity, energy consumption per unit of gross domestic product (GDP), only dropped 5.54 percent. The target is a 16 percent reduction from 2010 to 2015.

The five-year plan aims to reduce carbon intensity, the amount of carbon produced per unit of GDP, by 17 percent. In the first two years, it fell by only 6.6 percent.

There has been no substantial increase in non-fossil energy in the first two years either. In 2012, non-fossil energy accounted for 9.4 percent of total consumption, only up 0.8 percentage points from 2010. The target is 11.4 percent by 2015.

The emission of nitrogen oxides in 2011 and 2012, which closely affects air quality, increased by 2.82 percent from 2010. The target is a 10 percent reduction from 2010 to 2015.

The State Council attributes the slow progress to the pace of economic growth and slow industrial restructuring.

"We should try our best to realize the targets. If we fail, we should accept it honestly and find out what is wrong," said NPC Standing Committee member Qiangba Puncog.

The general public sees the environmental failures in the form of the frequent smog and high incidence of cancer, for example, said Gu Shengzu, another member.

"It will send the wrong signal if we reduce the targets," Gu said. "The indices and targets are not the most important. In the end, only if people see the improvements is our task fulfilled."

Gu also questioned the speed of urbanization. According to the report, urbanization reached 52.27 percent in 2012 while the target is 51.5 percent by 2015.

"Like gross domestic product (GDP), urbanization is not 'the faster the better'. Sometimes, growing too fast affects quality and we have side effects," he said.

Some lawmakers suggested adjustment of non-binding targets in line with new circumstances.

Some local governments had set higher economic growth targets in their own five-year plans than the national level. Since conditions have changed, they need to adjust the targets, Peng said.

He also suggested that the top legislature should speed up a law on design, monitoring and evaluation of development plans.

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