China’s New Five-Year Plan Bolsters Climate, Environmental Measures

China unveiled its 13th Five-Year Plan this March. The official proposal that will guide the country’s economic and social development from 2016 through 2020 lays out targets and other measures to address a number of climate change, air pollution, and water policies that will build on progress to transform its power sector.

The plan sets out new targets to reduce China’s carbon and energy intensity by 18% from 2015 levels while also seeking to grow the country’s economy by more than 6.5% per year over the next five years. This will be a first step toward achieving its Paris Agreement pledge to reduce carbon intensity 60% to 65% from 2005 levels by 2030.

And it may well exceed its targets: The World Resources Institute projected that China will actually reduce its carbon intensity 48% from 2005 levels by 2020, surpassing its original target of a 40% to 45% reduction. One of the major initiatives to achieve its climate targets is an emissions trading program, which will go beyond its seven regional pilots to nationwide coverage by 2017. The plan also sets goals of slashing energy intensity by 15%, quantifying—for the first time ever—guidance on energy consumption control. It states, specifically, that China should limit its energy use to five billion tons of standard “coal equivalent.”

The country has already moved forward on these efforts. On April 25, the National Development and Reform Commission and National Energy Administration suspended or slowed plans for more than 100 GW of coal-fired capacity—nearly 200 plants that are in development but not yet under construction—to curb overcapacity in the generation sector. The agencies noted that with the economic slowdown, power demand has fallen dramatically. The order also calls on coal-fired power plants to achieve ultra-low emissions and energy efficiency, and it requires plants that fail to meet national standards to shut down. Meanwhile, the 13th plan calls for the reduced use of untreated coal—as well as a diminished demand for coal with the use of more renewables and natural gas. The country will continue, under the plan, to invest in major new hydropower and nuclear projects, and it also plans more ultra-high-voltage power transmission and smart grids.

Nuclear will double over the next five years: Compared to the current capacity of about 27 GW, the plan calls for 58 GW of operating capacity by 2020 with another 30 GW under construction by that date. Along with completion of the four AP1000 units under construction at Sanmen in Zhejiang province (Figure 3) and at Haiyang in Shandong province by 2017, the plan envisions the construction and demonstration of a CAP1400 plant—the Chinese-built enlarged version of the AP1000—at Huaneng Group’s Shidaowan site. It also calls for the construction and demonstration of four Hualong One projects at the Fuqing plant in Fujian province and the Fangchenggang plant in Guangxi province by 2020, as well as for the construction of inland nuclear plants.

five-year plan

3. First of its kind. China’s State Power Investment Corp. projects that the world’s first Westinghouse Electric AP1000 reactor under construction at the Sanmen site in Zhejiang province could be operational by the end of this year. Unit 2 may come online in 2017. Courtesy: Westinghouse

These measures are to kick-start the domestic components sector while curbing air and water pollution. The plan, for example, sets forth specific goals for the reduction of water consumption by 23% from 2015 levels by 2020. Among several other environmental targets set out in the 13th plan is the mandatory 15% reduction of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides by 2020. The plan also requires that the air quality of all cities at the prefecture level and above must meet “good” or “excellent” standards 80% of the time.

“If these cities fail to meet China’s annual particulate matter (2.5) concentration standard, they must reduce their concentrations of this pollutant by 18% over five years,” said Barbara Finamore, an expert at the Natural Resources Defense Council’s China Program. The targets bolster game-changing amendments to China’s Environmental Protection Law, which went into effect in January 2015, she noted, especially because the law steps up enforcement efforts and even allows nongovernmental organizations to take legal action against polluters on behalf of the public interest.

—Sonal Patel, associate editor