EU climate chief hails Chinese five-year plan
Europe's top climate official has welcomed a series of environmental measures in China's latest five-year plan, a document that also charts rapid nuclear energy expansion in the earthquake-prone country.
A greater emphasis on energy efficiency and clean energies, together with plans to gradually implement a carbon-market mechanism, were among the positive elements singled out by EU climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard on Tuesday (15 March).
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"China's clean energy drive proves that in order to keep our leading position in the green growth race, Europe must invest now in clean technologies," she said in a statement.
China is currently the world's largest energy user and also biggest carbon emitter. Despite huge advances in developing its renewable energy sector, experts predict the vast programme to build hydro, nuclear, wind and solar power stations will probably reduce the proportion of electricity China generates from coal, but not the amount.
Events in Japan have also cast a shadow over Beijing's nuclear energy drive, clearly outlined in the latest five-year plan approved by the roughly 3,000 delegates to China's National People's Congress on Monday.
At present there are some 440 nuclear power reactors operating in 31 countries across the globe. Added to that, roughly 60 power reactors are currently being constructed in 16 countries, with China leading the pack with an estimated 27 reactors under construction.
Recent Chinese earthquakes include last year's in southern Qinghai where roughly 3,000 people lost their lives. A larger earthquake in eastern Sichuan in 2008 killed some 87,000 people.
A meeting of EU member states officials in Brussels on Tuesday decided that the region's nuclear plants should undergo a series of tests to assess their ability to withstand high-stress conditions produced by factors such as earthquakes, flooding, or power cuts.
Several EU countries and China have indicated however that events in Japan will not interrupt their nuclear plans.
As well as the new nuclear headache, Chinese officials have also had to contend with a series of small-scale pro-democracy protests, inspired by events in the Arab world. So far, online calls for Chinese citizens to take part in Sunday city-centre 'strolls' have elicited far more police than citizens calling for reform.
"In China, there is no visibly corrupt government that protestors can concentrate on, at least not at the national level," one senior official in the EU's external action service recently told this website on condition of anonymity, adding that Chinese citizens were generally content with the country's high rate of growth.
The new plan sets an average annual growth rate for the next five years of about seven per cent of GDP, lower than previous years. Distribution is also very uneven.
"Now the Chinese economy has become the second largest in the world, but at the same time we are also fully aware that China remains a developing country with a large population, weak economic foundation and uneven development," Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao told a press conference on Monday.
Wen said the government would stick to its gradual development of "socialist democracy".
"It needs to be taken forward in an orderly way under the leadership of the [Communist] Party."