China is saying NO to "dirty" economic growth patterns

Almost six months have passed since the release of the 12th Five-Year Plan – China’s overarching social and economic development guide for the 2011-15 period – and none of the specific sectoral development plans have been unveiled. Among them, the specific energy development plan has attracted the most attention due to the fact that a dual-target control system, with binding goals for both energy intensity and total energy consumption, will be used to ensure the country’s transition to a more environmentally-friendly economy.

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carbon intensity, China, Climate Change, energy intensity, GDP, local municipalities, national government, renewable energy, sustainable development, total energy consumption

According to a new report from Renmin University, in 2005–09 there were significant differences between China’s statistical data for provincial energy use when aggregated using local government data versus when calculated by a province as a whole. This gap between bottom-up and top-down statistics is also evident at the national versus provincial level.

2011 GDP growth rate: goals claimed by individual provinces are significantly larger than national target of 8%

It’s a well-known fact that the mismatch between national statistics and aggregated provincial data is an ongoing challenge in China. Reports indicate that in recent years, estimates for national energy consumption using aggregated provincial data have been up to 15 percent higher than the national total figure.

And it’s not just energy data that faces accountability issues. The aggregate of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) statistics reported by local governments, for instance, is often larger than the overall national figure released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). In 2004, the aggregate provincial GDP surpassed the national figure by almost 20 percent. After that, the gap shrank significantly but increased again in the past five years. The 2010 national and provincial GDP data still show an 8 percent gap.

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cap and trade, capacity building, China, energy consumption, energy efficiency, energy intensity, GDP, GHG inventory, statistics

China's wind farms: Looking good and promising

By Haibing Ma and Lini Fu

In 2010, China overtook the United States as the global leader in installed wind power capacity, representing yet another triumph in the much-hyped clean tech race between the world’s two largest economies. Looking beyond the numbers, however, the true nature of China’s wind energy development appears far more bleak. 

According to the newest data released by the Chinese Renewable Energy Industry Association (CREIA), by the end of 2010, China had installed a total of 41.8 gigawatts (GW) of wind capacity, just ahead of the U.S. total of 40.2 GW. Even more impressive is the growth of China’s wind sector: while the United States added only about 5 GW of new capacity in 2010, China installed 16 GW. In 2009, China surpassed the U.S. to become the world leader in clean energy investment.

So why aren’t China’s top energy policymakers celebrating the recent wind capacity milestone, given the country’s unprecedented achievements in renewable energy development? Instead, in a January meeting, officials with the National Energy Administration (NEA) lamented the fact that China still trails the U.S. in the amount of wind power connected to the grid—with only an estimated 31.1 GW grid-tied by the end of 2010.

The reality is that a significant share of China’s installed wind capacity is not connected to any grid. This is wasting a significant amount of investment, not to mention energy. The positive side is that the central government is beginning to address this problem in a more rational way, which hints at a more sustainable approach to policymaking as well.

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China, clean tech race, GDP, green economy, grid connection, grid-access, installed capacity, renewable energy, transmission capacity, United States, wind power

A campaign to replace GDP with a more complete measure of well-being as the yardstick of national performance is gaining traction.

For most people alive today, Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is one of those unconsidered parts of our common consciousness that seems immutable. GDP is how countries size themselves up against their peers, how they measure progress.

And yet the U.S. Department of Commerce created GDP as a statistic only in 1942. With the measure’s current ubiquity, it is natural that the Department named the development of GDP and other national income indices as its “achievement of the century.” But the realization that GDP didn’t even exist 70 years ago begs the question of whether it will exist with its current cachet 70 years from now.

In recent years, a growing group of economists, academics, and others has argued that the answer should be “no.” This is not a climate issue, or even an environmental one, per se. If these campaigners get their way, however, there will be dramatic consequences for the climate and energy debate.

If a country’s ultimate responsibility to its citizens is to ensure and increase happiness and well-being, GDP is indeed an incomplete measure of a state’s performance. Variables such as engagement in fulfilling personal activities, social connectedness, political voice, and environmental conditions have been shown to greatly influence well-being but are not accounted for in GDP. Even Simon Kuznets, the eponym of the Kuznets Curve and the Nobel Prize-winning economist who is probably responsible more than anyone for the development of GDP as a statistic, cautioned in his first report to Congress in 1934 that, “…the welfare of a nation can, therefore, scarcely be inferred from a measure of national income…” 

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Bhutan, economic analysis, France, GDP, Gross National Happiness, happiness, Sarkozy, Transforming Cultures, Well-Being

Tropical storms continue to barrage the Philippines as they have done for nearly a month. Now it’s Typhoon Lupit on the way, headed yet again for the northern islands of the Philippines. The International Rice Research Institute, based in Manila, has called the flooding currently underway in the country “once-in-a-lifetime.” While this is typically a rainy time for the islands, the intensity of this year’s storms is rarely seen.

Typhoon Lupit headed for Northern Philippines

Typhoon Lupit headed for Northern Philippines

Is this climate change rearing its head in the form of more intense storms, as predicted? IRRI admits that it may be unscientific to draw a direct correlation between carbon emissions and these storms right off the bat. However, the Institute has used the events, alongside India’s delayed monsoon season, and long-lasting drought conditions in Australia to draw attention to the affects all these weather events have had on rice – an extremely negative effect in all cases. Rice is by far one of the world’s most important subsistence crops, making up nearly 20% of your average human’s caloric intake (as high as 70% in Cambodia and Bangladesh). The ruined rice crops of 2009 are proving more than ever why climate insecurity equals food insecurity–which leads to political instability.

The Congressional Budget Office skirted over this fact last week when it testified to the Senate on the predicted effects of climate change on the United States’ GDP.  CBO Director Doug Elmendorf cited the fact that “most of the [US] economy involves activities that are not likely to be directly affected by changes in climate” as reason to be wary of passing climate legislation. Since the U.S. agriculture sector only makes up 3% of our GDP, effects on this industry receive little weight and the effects of climate change on other nations’ security receives even less. The costs of food insecurity and global instability simply do not make it into such hard and fast GDP calculations and contribute to the slow progress being made on a U.S. climate bill. The same could be said for a global climate deal as well.  Food security, both domestic and global, needs to be in the minds of our legislators and on the agenda in Copenhagen.

cap and trade, Climate Change, Copenhagen, food security, GDP, natural disasters, US Climate Bill