Working for a Low Carbon Economy during Structural Adjustments

From: English Edition of Qiushi Journal Updated: 2011-09-20 13:22
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 We must ceaselessly work to accelerate transformation of the pattern of economic development and develop a low carbon economy under the guidance of the Scientific Outlook on Development. This is an inevitable decision for China to take in order to respond to global climate change. Yunnan, which is an underdeveloped province in western China, has a low level of industrialization and faces an uphill battle in transforming development, making it extremely difficult to expand employment there. However, we have made every effort to overcome the province’s difficulties and problems, made best use of the province’s strengths and closely integrated efforts to sustain economic growth and expand employment with efforts to adjust the economic structure, and the province is now on the road to sustainable development.

 Yunnan has a good ecological environment and has been blessed by nature, providing the necessary prerequisites for the development of a low carbon economy there. First, Yunnan’s diverse ecosystem makes the province a strong carbon sink. Yunnan, which is one of the four major forested areas in China, has vast forested areas and devotes 60.4% of its land to forestry purposes, making it second in the country. Over 50% of the province’s land is covered by forests. Yunnan’s forests and its entire ecosystem have not only brought considerable economic benefits to the province, they have also played an important role in maintaining the ecological balance and improving climate conditions in the key watersheds of the Yangtze River, Pearl River and Lancang River. Second, Yunnan has a variety of energy resources and shows vast potential for the exploitation and utilization of renewable energy. Yunnan has a total theoretical reserve of hydropower resources of more than 100 million kW and an economically recoverable hydropower generating capacity of 98 million kW, second highest in the country. Yunnan obviously has a great advantage in terms of solar energy, with annual solar radiation energy equivalent to more than 73 billion tons of standard coal. Potential wind energy resources total more than 100 million kW, with about 11.5% of the land area suitable for wind power generation capable of producing 28.32 million kW. Third, Yunnan has a variety of natural resources, meaning there is great potential for saving energy and reducing emissions through adjustment of the economic structure. Finally, Yunnan is also rich in biological resources, tourism resources and ethnic cultural resources, so there is great potential for developing light industry centered on development of biological resources, as well as for developing modern services centered on tourism and culture.

 Yunnan has had some success in saving energy and reducing emissions in recent years, providing experience that will help the province in developing a low carbon economy. First, we have achieved significant results in treating water pollution in the province’s nine major plateau lakes. There were 65 projects included in the Eleventh Five-Year Plan to prevent and control water pollution in Dianchi Lake, 20 of which have been completed, 44 of which are under construction, and the most critical project, designed to interrupt pollution around the edge of the lake and to divert water into the lake from outside sources, is proceeding smoothly. As a result, the water in Dianchi Lake is beginning to show improvement. We have adopted a “one lake, one policy” approach for the other eight key plateau lakes in the province, developing individual treatment plans for each of them and constantly increasing government spending for them, thus bringing about significant results. Second, we are carrying out reform in tenure of collective forests. As a result, the province’s forest industry is developing rapidly, forest resources have grown significantly, and reserves of standing timber have exceeded 1.7 billion m3. The Northwestern Yunnan Biodiversity Conservation Action Plan was launched in 2008, and a total of 7 billion yuan was spent for this purpose during the Eleventh Five-Year Plan, with the focus on projects to protect biodiversity, genetic diversity, and the diversity of ecosystems. At the same time, we have increased efforts to develop the Nu-Jinsha-Lancang river network of shelterbelts, carried out ecological improvement through the project to return farmland to forests and the project to plant shelterbelts, and worked to bring soil erosion and desertification under control. These measures have played a positive role in improving Yunnan’s natural environment.

 Experience has clearly shown us that the development of a low carbon economy is a very complex systems engineering project. It requires the support of advanced science and technology and requires that the public generally recognize the need to conscientiously change their traditional patterns of production and consumption. The CPC Yunnan Provincial Committee and the Yunnan Provincial People’s Government are keeping their feet on the ground, integrating all forces and factors, and inaugurating a new phase in the effort to conserve energy and reduce emissions while making structural adjustments.

 January 6, 2010, the first power-generating unit of the experimental demonstration project of grid-connected solar photovoltaic power station in Shilin Yi Autonomous County, Yunnan Province goes on line. The unit is a 66 mw capacity photovoltaic field and is the first large-scale, surface-based solar photovoltaic power station connected to the grid in Yunnan. The Kunming Shilin Grid-connected Solar Photovoltaic Power Station will eventually have a power-generating capacity of 166 mw and is located in Shilin Town, Shilin Yi Autonomous County. The project requires a total investment of 9.1 billion yuan and construction began in December 2008. / Photo by Xinhua reporter Lin Yiguang

 First, we are working hard to make the industrial structure more rational. The impact of the global financial crisis has fully exposed the problems in Yunnan’s industrial structure, making improvement of the pattern of economic development an extremely urgent task. We have set the development goals to fulfill this task as “making the industrial structure more rational, stronger and lighter.” Making the structure more rational means improving the internal industrial structure by gradually reducing the prevalence of tobacco and heavy chemical industry in the total value added by industry and nurturing and strengthening strategically important emerging industries, focusing on the development of the bio-pharmaceutical, photoelectronic, new materials, new energy, environmental protection and advanced manufacturing industries. Making the structure stronger means improving the profitability and core competitiveness of enterprises and raising the technological level and value added of products by relying on independent innovation. There are two goals in making the structure lighter, which means increasing dependence on light industry. One is to extend the industrial chain of heavy chemical industry by promoting the development of new and more specialized products and the other is to strongly promote development of products of light industry to meet consumer demand for daily necessities. We have adopted three measures to achieve these goals. The first is to step up efforts to nurture and develop strategically important emerging industries and create new areas of economic growth. Another is to upgrade traditional industries by applying advanced and appropriate technologies and new- and high-technologies to make them more competitive and better ensure that their development is sustainable. The third is to make conditions for entering the market and industrial policies more strict and intensify efforts to eliminate backward production capacity, thereby reducing pollution and emissions and creating more room for the development of emerging industries.

 Second, we are working hard to make the pattern of resource utilization more rational. Although Yunnan is rich in natural resources, resource conversion efficiency in the province is lower than the national average and energy efficiency is also lower than the higher levels reached in other parts of the country, with the exploitation and utilization rate for water resources only reaching 1/7 of the national average. On the other hand, production of solid industrial wastes is the fifth greatest in the country, about 3.6 times the national average per 10,000 yuan of GDP, and the high-tech products produced in the province only account for 7% of all industrial products, far below the national average of 17%. The key to changing this situation is to make the mechanism for pricing resource products more reasonable as soon as possible. To this end, Yunnan is working out a resource pricing mechanism that reflects resource scarcity and environmental costs after working out a way to clearly identify ownership of resources. At the same time, measures are being adopted to reduce the cost of waste recycling and reuse while making primary resources and environmentally unfriendly products more expensive to encourage enterprises to make substitutions for primary resources wherever possible by reducing the amounts used and by reusing and recycling them.

 Third, we are working hard to make the energy structure more rational. Developing clean hydroelectric power is an effective way for Yunnan to improve energy conservation and emissions reduction. Yunnan added 12.525 million kW of hydroelectric generating capacity between 2006 and 2009, which generated about 29 billion kWh of electricity during this period. This is equivalent to fossil fuels of 10.44 million tons of standard coal and a reduction of carbon dioxide emissions of about 26 million tons, an important contribution to emissions reduction efforts. We will continue to develop more hydroelectric generating capacity, constantly work to improve the energy structure and work to put hydroelectric and thermal electric plants on the same grids and rate structures. We will encourage and guide enterprises to use clean energy and strive to continue raising rates appropriately for electricity generated by the West-to-East Electricity Transmission Project to ensure that the interests of local governments and people displaced to make way for the project are protected. We are implementing a provincial policy of charging different electricity rates for different industries to support the development of emerging industries with good prospects while eliminating backward industries and strengthen the role of electricity prices in guiding industrial restructuring. In addition, we need to assess, design and plan nuclear power projects as soon as possible and work to launch them during the initial stage of the Twelfth Five-Year Plan to improve the province’s energy structure. We are working to develop a diversified power structure dominated by hydropower and supplemented by thermal electricity plus developing nuclear power industry more quickly. This will lay the foundation for Yunnan to become a major clean energy province and to make its due contribution to improving the energy structure and promoting energy conservation and emissions reduction.

 Fourth, we are working hard to make the mechanism for ecological compensation more rational. Setting up a reasonable compensation mechanism for ecological damage will create a powerful force to drive ecological conservation, environmental protection, energy conservation and emissions reduction. Yunnan is a key forested area in China, as well as a mineral-rich region and important ecological green belt. Yunnan and other resource-rich provinces and autonomous regions have long provided the country with large amounts of resources and made important contributions to the ecological security of China’s key watersheds. We must increase compensation and strengthen support for these areas to reflect the principle that all areas have common but differentiated responsibilities for reducing emissions and to carry out development in key functional ecological areas designated as non-development zones. To do this, we will be concentrating efforts in two areas. One is to urge relevant national government departments to establish a stronger and more equitable mechanism for sharing ecological benefits and related responsibilities and to substantially increase national transfer payments and government environmental protection spending for biodiversity conservation zones, restricted development zones and non-development zones in the western region as well as for the key watersheds of the Jinsha River, Nu River, Lancang River and Pearl River. Yunnan itself also needs to set up corresponding fiscal and taxation incentives and mechanisms to promote the development of industries that take advantage of local resources, increase spending on key ecological conservation areas, implement a principle of working harder to protect the ecological environment to benefit more from the environment, and rely to the greatest extent on each area to take the initiative in conserving energy and cutting emissions. Another area on which we need to concentrate efforts is on the experiment in carbon trading. The ability of forests to capture and store CO2 indirectly cuts total carbon emissions, and using forests as carbon sinks is better than industrial solutions because they require less investment, have lower operating cost and provide more overall benefits. Yunnan, as a major carbon sink, needs to conduct studies and formulate a program for promoting the development of forests as carbon sinks and carrying out carbon trading on a trial basis. We will be striving to make substantial progress in increasing the area of forest carbon sinks and carrying out carbon trading to turn the advantage of the entire province’s forest resources into future capital for accelerating development. This will enable Yunnan to contribute even more to national emissions reduction efforts as well as strengthen the province’s potential for future development.

 Fifth, we are working hard to make the distribution and transportation network more rational. Roads are responsible for most of Yunnan’s distribution and transportation, carrying 91.6% of all cargo traffic and 92.5% of all passenger traffic. There are two major problems with this transport structure: First, it makes distribution costs high, and second, it makes unitary energy consumption high. Yunnan’s existing distribution and transportation structure is restricting economic development as well as making energy conservation and emissions reduction more difficult. Therefore, we must energetically work to develop a transportation system with a substantially longer total length of rail lines and increase the proportion of traffic in the province handled by the railroads. In addition, we must devote a great deal of energy to the development of urban light rail and intercity high-speed railway lines to improve the transportation structure and raise the overall efficiency of the transportation system as much as possible.

 Sixth, we are working to improve the way people live. We are working hard to make methane gas available to more rural households and make wood-burning cooking stoves used in rural areas more energy efficient. The number of rural users of methane gas in Yunnan now totals 2.47 million. An eight m3 methane pit can generate an average of 400 m3 or so of gas per year for Yunnan, equivalent to over 285.6 kg of standard coal and capable of replacing more than 2,000 kg of firewood. The number of methane gas users in the province has increased by 1.25 million in the past five years, capable of saving about 2.5 million tons of firewood, equivalent to more than 370,000 tons of standard coal. In addition to the increased use of methane gas in recent years, 6 million rural households are now using efficient wood-burning stoves, there are now over 1.7 million square meters of solar panels in use for heating water, and good progress is being made in expanding the use of solar photovoltaic cells and enriched straw as energy sources in rural areas. This has significantly contributed to improving the rural energy structure and reducing the consumption of fossil fuels and firewood in the countryside. We need to encourage urban residents to develop the good habit of paying attention to detail, focusing on leading a more energy efficient way of life. For example, electrical equipment in standby mode consumes about 10% as much electricity as in operating mode and energy-saving light bulbs are about 3.5-4 times more efficient than ordinary incandescent bulbs under the same conditions and for the same amount of light use as much as 80% less energy. We must take effective measures to teach the public about energy conservation and encourage people to reduce their carbon footprint in cities and towns across the province and develop civilized and thrifty green lifestyles and habits.

(From Qiushi in Chinese, No. 6, 2010)

Note: Author: Governor of the Yunnan Provincial People’s Government  

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