China's Energy Intensity Cuts Good News for the Climate

China's Energy Intensity Cuts Good News for the Climate

In the run-up to the world's leaders gathering in Copenhagen this December to negotiate a new climate treaty, there is plenty of talk, and even some action, from some of the world's largest countries in addressing carbon footprints on a national level.

In the U.S. we had the House of Representatives pass the Waxman-Markey climate bill at the end of June, which aims to cut the country's greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent by 2020. And yesterday, China's National Development and Reform Commission made an announcement saying that the country had cut its energy intensity -- the amount of energy used per unit of GDP -- by 3.35 percent in the first six months of 2009.

While China's new energy intensity figures show an improvement over recent numbers, it still represents a slide from earlier improvements. From a Reuters article on the announcement:
China's government is pushing to make the country more efficient to reduce reliance on overseas oil and gas and curb damaging pollution from power plants and factories -- even as its strong growth pushes up overall energy consumption.

The country has set a goal of cutting energy intensity by 20 percent over the five years to 2010. Officials abandoned a yearly reduction target of 4 percent after falling short in 2006, but the government has stuck to the overall aim.

Its efforts appear to be gathering steam after an unsteady start, and in 2008 energy intensity fell nearly 5 percent.
For comparison's sake, we track the energy intensity of the U.S. economy in our annual State of Green Business report, and between 2006 and 2007, the U.S. cut its energy intensity by about 3.26 percent, from 2.25 BTUs per dollar of GDP to 2.16 BTUs per dollar.

China's reductions are good news, of course -- especially given additional news today that China may become the world's largest manufacturer by 2015, taking that title from the U.S. (much as it also took the title of the world's largest emitter of CO2 earlier this year).

In addition to improving its energy intensity, China also recently took advantage of an economy-related slowdown in energy demand to shutter some of its least efficient power plants as a way of reducing pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.