06 May 2010

China's Energy Intensity Increases

Reuters reports that China's energy intensity -- that is, energy consumption per unit of GDP -- has increased during 2010:
China's energy use in generating each dollar of gross domestic product rose 3.2 percent in the first quarter from a year earlier, state media cited a cabinet statement as saying on Thursday.

The increase, which reversed steady declines in the previous years, poses severe challenges for China to meet its goal of reducing energy intensity by 20 percent from 2005 to 2010, Premier Wen Jiabao said, according to the People's Daily.

From 2005 to 2009, China has brought its energy intensity -- the amount of fuel needed for generate each dollar of national income -- down by 14.38 percent.

"This greatly increased the difficulty of our work for the last three quarters of this year," Wen was cited as telling a cabinet work meeting on Wednesday.

This means, almost certainly, that China's economy has become more carbon intensive in 2010. This should not come as a surprise, despite the praise for some quarters given to China for its green energy policies.

Last fall I took a look at China's promises for short- and long-term intensity goals (both energy and carbon) and found them to be unrealistic. In a letter to Nature (PDF) on China's long-term target I wrote:
. . . projections of business-as-usual decarbonization from any country that are at rates three times higher than recent historical averages should be greeted with appropriate scepticism.
China now seems all but certain to miss its short-term target, though Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao promises to use an "iron hand" to get back on track. Of course, the greater the effort made to reduce inefficiencies to meet short-term targets, the harder the task remaining to hit long-term targets, as the so-called "low hanging fruit" will have already been harvested.