Friday, September 10, 2010
China’s Power Cuts - dictatorial rule might have some beneficial side-effects
China’s Power Cuts
EVEN some Western liberals, including fierce critics of the lack of democracy in China, concede that dictatorial rule might have some beneficial side-effects. Take, for example, the challenge of tackling human-induced climate change. Whereas Western governments get bogged down in the morass where present-day voters are asked to make sacrifices now for the sake of voters to come, China, the argument goes, can just issue an edict. But even in China, it is not that easy.
There was some grudging admiration for the drastic measures in place in, for example, Anping county in the northern province of Hebei, around Beijing. As part of China’s national target of cutting energy intensity (the amount of energy used per unit of GDP) by 20% in the five-year period ending this year, Anping had wanted to cut its electricity consumption by 6.6% in 2010 from the 2009 level. The first half of this year, however, yielded a cut of less than 1%.
So the local government got tough. It divided the country’s 98 wiring systems into three groups and, from August 27th, turned them off in turn. People had to put up with not just a short black-out—but a 22-hour period, from 9pm to 7pm the next day, without electricity.
Not surprisingly, businesses, unable to complete orders they had taken, and residents, emptying their fridges of rotten food, were furious. And their cries of rage were heard. The central and provincial governments have told local authorities to restore power supplies.
Some restrictions remain in place: supplies to illegal energy-intensive and high-polluting factories are still to be cut. This is in keeping with the nationwide drive, which has seen many factories across the country closed for at least part of the time.
Steel production has been affected. Reuters quotes official estimates that output could fall by 7m tonnes in September. An analyst quoted by the Wall Street Journal, however, points out that this may have motives other than cutting carbon emissions and energy intensity. It might be intended to help the consolidation of China's fragmented steel industry, which would strengthen the country's bargaining position with the big iron-ore producers.
Even so, China does seem to be taking its energy-intensity target extremely seriously, which must be welcomed. Nor is it bad news that a local government cannot get away with high-handed collective punishment of its power-guzzling citizens. It too will have to enter the morass, and try to persuade people to change their behaviour. From Banyan’s Notebook, The Economist