Energy Expert Says China's Economic Growth Must Slow Before Energy-Reduction Goals Can be Met

An expert on China's energy says the country will have difficulty reaching its energy-reduction goals as long as economic growth remains above 10 percent. He also says China might surpass the United States as the number one emitter of climate-changing carbon dioxide as early as next year. Daniel Schearf reports from Beijing.

China's booming growth has quickly made it the world's fourth-largest economy. It has also made the country the second-largest energy consumer in the world, and one of the most polluted.

The government has vowed to cut energy intensity, a measure of the energy required for economic growth, by 20 percent, and pollution by 10 percent, by 2010.

But China's National Bureau of Statistics says the country fell short of that goal last year. The bureau said Wednesday that energy intensity fell by only 1.2 percent in 2006, far less than the targeted four percent per year.

Yang Fuqiang is the , a U.S.-based private organization. Speaking to foreign journalists here Wednesday, he said China will not be able to reach its energy reduction goals unless the government slows GDP growth below the current rate.

"GDP have to be around eight or nine percent. If higher than 10 percent, there are no way(s) to cut energy consumption," Yang says.

Last year China's economy grew by 10.7 percent, the fastest pace in 10 years, despite repeated government efforts to slow it down.

China's Communist Party depends on fast economic growth for its legitimacy, however. Local officials have largely overlooked energy efficiency and pollution in the race to produce high GDP figures.

China's dependence on heavily polluting coal-fired power has already made it the number one emitter of sulfur dioxide, which causes acid rain.

It is currently the second-largest emitter of carbon dioxide, after the U.S., but Yang says growth in private car ownership could see China surpass America in CO2 emissions as early as next year.

He says Beijing has to do more to encourage investment by the provinces in larger, energy-saving projects and technology. For now, local officials tend to rely on small coal-fired power plants, which are inefficient and dirty, but profitable and quick to establish.

He says success or failure of the 20 percent-cut target depends on local implementation.

"The central government, they have to put more effort and have a more mandatory or more incentive policy to push forward. Otherwise, this target cannot (be) implemented," Yang says.

Yang says Premier Wen Jiabao will likely address energy consumption and environmental degradation issues next week during China's annual legislative session.