China’s New Five-Year Plan vs. Our No Plan

January 20, 2011 § 1 Comment

At its annual plenum in late October of 2010 the Chinese Communist Party approved the guiding principles for China’s 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015), which is scheduled for formal ratification in March.  Divided into 12 sections with a total of 56 articles, the guiding principles (not in English translation yet) indicates a significant shift in direction from the 11th Five-Year Plan (2006-2010).  Chinese leaders no longer want the country to be the “world’s workshop,” producing low-end goods like socks, underwear, shoes, and cheap electronics.  It’s time, they say, for China to become the “world’s market”–for the economy to modernize and mature, wages to increase, and domestic consumption to accelerate.

Modernizing the economy requires “fostering the development of strategic new industries,” according to the Plan, which then goes on to target a number of key sectors, including “energy-saving” technologies, “new-energy” technologies, and “alternative-energy vehicles.”  It’s progress in areas such as these, the Plan claims, that will give China the “comparative advantage in the global economy (article 13).”

If the 12th Five-Year Plan has its way, then, the world will no longer be buying only cheap underwear from China, but solar panels, wind turbines, e-vehicles, and super-critical coal-fired technology as well.   So, if I’m getting this right, the Chinese are betting that by committing to the development and production of new and renewable energy industries and products—and then exporting them—their economy will grow and Chinese people will consume.   Seems like a pretty reasonable plan to me.

The development of non-fossil fuel technologies, however, is clearly not motivated by economic considerations alone.  Section 6 of the guidelines for the Five-Year Plan (articles 22-26) acknowledges the environmental wreckage of the past few decades and proposes measures to be taken to protect the Chinese environment if it’s to survive the 21st century.  Among those measures are: lowering GHG emissions through energy intensity reductions and CO2 emission intensity reductions; controlling overall energy consumption and limiting the growth of energy-intensives industries; improving energy-efficiency regulations and standards; developing an efficient mechanism for energy-saving markets; promoting advanced energy-saving technologies and products; making buildings greener and more energy efficient; and increasing the percentage of non-fossil fuels.

This Five-Year Plan, of course, is just that–a plan.  How successfully the objectives outlined there will be implemented remains to be seen.  But it’s clear that the Chinese government is focused on climate change and its disastrous consequences—where ours is not.  It’s clear that China’s leaders have a plan for moving forward on environmental matters—where ours do not.   And it’s clear that these same leaders have made the development of green industries a top economic priority–where ours have not.  True, we have different forms of government.  Democracy can be slow.  But in tackling what are the most urgent issues of the century, our government hasn’t been slow.  It’s been plain irresponsible.

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