Chinese local government ignoring national green agenda

While Beijing strives to appear to balance the economic and environmental needs of China, it's business as usual for many officials working in the provinces.

The environment has often been seen as the unavoidable victim of China’s meteoric economic rise but in recent months those in top government posts have been stressing the need for more sustainable growth.

But according to state-owned media, many local authorities are investing heavily in energy-intensive industry despite Beijing’s calls to rein in power consumption and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Officials from the National Development & Reform Commission (NDRC) said that such activity could ‘hinder social harmony’ if some areas dutifully do their bit to protect the environment but can see their neighbours ignoring the rules.

“The central government is committed to achieving the (green) targets but some local governments have turned a blind eye to them,” He Bingguang, NDRC deputy director, told China Daily.

According to Mr He, some local governments had been giving preferential treatment to steel, cement and other high energy consuming and polluting industries despite the top leadership’s repeated warning that “they are overheated and should be brought under control”.

China has the stated aim of reducing energy consumption by 20% by 2010 and has set up a working party, headed by Premier Wen Jiabao, to look at ways to improve energy efficiency and reduce the nation’s carbon footprint.

But, according to Mr He, many local officials still see heavy industry as a fast track to economic success for their district and, indirectly, as a way to achieve easy promotion for themselves if the area under their control reports healthy profits.

Systematic reforms are needed to address this culture, he said, and there is an urgent need to have districts’ performance assessed not just on their financial success but also on measures introduced to save energy, protect the environment and improve social development.

David Gibbs

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