China Focuses on Climate Action in Latest Five-Year Plan

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China’s five-year plans have been a staple of the government since the era of Mao Zedong in the 1950s. These bold and ambitious plans, which lay the groundwork for economic policy, are more than mere posturing by Chinese politicians. Even to this day, the Chinese government exerts massive control through central planning of state-owned industries, public infrastructure and more. China’s government has the power to implement big changes with little opposition.

To outsiders, that sounds like too much power in the hands of the few. However, this could be the best way to make sweeping changes that address climate issues.

The latest five-year plan has an emphasis on environmental issues like none of the other 11 plans before it. While the economy remains the central focus every five years, the 2015-2020 plan sets some lofty goals to lower pollution and improve the environment.

By 2020, China hopes to drastically reduce carbon emissions by almost 18 percent. This issue is a big one, not just for the environment but also for peoples’ quality of life. It’s also not a new issue that China is taking on, as the previous five-year plan made some headway in lessening carbon emissions. In the past decades, massive factories and a reliance on coal have drastically lowered air quality throughout China. A perpetual haze plagues large swaths of the country. The capital, Beijing, is especially hard hit and smog sometimes shuts down the city.

China’s goals over the next five years

In the latest five-year plan, China lays out specific targets. It hopes to limit energy consumption to 5 million tons of standard coal equivalent. The country also, according to the World Resources Institute, wants to lower energy intensity by 15 percent. In other words, it wants to make energy more efficient in the economy.

Specific geographic areas with the worst pollution will be targeted in the new plan. For example, officials hope to reduce airborne particulates in Beijing and Shanghai by 25 percent in the next two years. Funding to control air pollution is scheduled to quadruple, reports Nature.

China is already trimming its state-owned coal firms. This industry was at overcapacity during the global financial crisis as a form of stimulus, but now China is cutting production by 9 percent and reassigning 1.8 million people in the coal and steel industries. These moves have caused some unrest, as the workers aren’t taking the reassignment lightly. While this is not an easy decision, it shows China is serious about improving both the economy and the environment.

The economy vs. the environment

As in previous plans, the economy is front and center for this five-year plan. Government officials are targeting a 6.5 percent annual increase in GDP, which shows that the country is slowing down from years past. This slowdown is alarming to both China and the rest of the world. Economic turmoil in China would send ripples globally. While China weathered the global financial crisis well, it appears to be on a trajectory opposite that of the U.S.

Construction in the U.S. — especially for businesses — is on the rise. In China, similar projects are slowing down.

“We are determined to push ahead with reforms. It will revitalize economic development,” said Li Keqiang, premier of China. “We have to address real problems in sluggish coal and steel sectors.”

Climate action and economic growth aren’t an either/or proposition, but it’s possible that environmental goals could be ignored if the economy turns south. In this case, the pressure will be on the government to provide jobs while climate action could take a back seat. Right now, China is taking the possibility of an economic slowdown seriously while still planning to make positive environmental changes.

Hopefully conditions stay strong and China can stay the course on its latest five-year plan.

Image via: Pexels

Anum Yoon is a writer who is passionate about personal finance and sustainability. She often looks for ways she can incorporate money management with environmental awareness. You can read her updates on Follow Anum Yoon @anumyoon