China’s government completed its Energy Saving and Emission Reduction（ESER）initiative for the “11th Five-year Plan” by the end of 2010. It achieved the goal by statistically reducing energy consumption per Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by 19.1%, carbon dioxide emissions by 14.29%, and chemical oxygen demand (COD) by 12.45%. The gains were approximately equal to the goals set down in early 2006 and their achievement is largely the result of direct individual accountability prescribed to reach them. The accountability-for-target management methodology worked according to five objectives:
Vision – Shaping the desired outcomes from ESER
Goals – Selecting quantifiable criteria
Targets – Breaking down goals for each government agency
Performance – Assessing completion against target numbers
Accountability – holding agency leaders responsible for reaching targets.
ESER required a large amount of resources. Through the five-step accountability management system, the central government was able to allocate resources to the right government levels, agencies and geographic areas. This enabled it to set up standard procedures for reaching ESER goals in line with agreed steps, and to evaluate each official’s effort and performance. The accountability-for-target management was the most fundamental and critical tool for success.
By breaking down goals to quantitative, measurable numbers and assigning it to each year and level of government, the system reduced costs and performance evaluation error. It also ensured that ESER goals were realistic and achievable for different regions, thus greatly encouraging local government to promote the program. However, the accountability-for-target system isn’t perfect and still faces a number of challenges. One of these is current legal regulations which are relatively general on accountability management and in need of more specific terms. Take the “People’s Republic of China Law of Energy Saving and Emission Reduction” for example. It only refers to associated accountability once in one of its chapters. Hence, some local government leaders still mistakenly prioritized GDP growth before energy saving and emission reduction. Once the supervision from central government loosened up, their energy savings fell and emissions rose. The other challenge is in the ESER goal setting method which cannot be called either scientific or democratic. The 11th Five-year Plan for National Economic and Social Development of the People’s Republic of China specifically sets out that government continues to reform the planning management system and implements scientific and democratic procedures. The ESER index is also an important part of the planning, but it still lacks specific provisions for compilation, assessment, public participation and approvals, etc.
Another challenge lies in the proper procedures for breaking down goals for geographic regions. The current ESER model provides for breakdown of goals to be done in a top down manner but it does not specify how central and local governments should negotiate the breakdown. The direct consequence is that some less developed western provinces carried the burden of more than their share of the total ESER outcome due to their main growth industries involving heavy, energy-intensive operations. Challenges were also found during application, when local government resorted to the wrong methods for limiting necessary daily energy use in industrial and domestic sectors. They did so to achieve goals on paper during performance evaluation but in the process seriously interfered with industrial production and people’s lives.
Also, the general public has been given neither the right to participate in the process nor sufficient information about it, and is therefore indifferent and unsupportive. Another challenge is that the outcome in some areas tends to carry more weight for performance evaluation than the means of achieving it. For example, local governments limiting normal energy consumption to influence the evaluation result which should have been achieved by eliminating outdated equipment and introducing technological innovation. Lastly, major regulations to deal with failure to reach ESER goals are still in governmental rather than legal documents.
All these challenges are created by many factors, the most critical one being the lack of legal regulations – governmental orders alone cannot fully enforce the goal setting, execution and evaluation processes. In the long run, further promotion of energy conservation during the “12th Five-year Plan” calls for stronger laws and regulations supporting the accountability-for-target system. For instance, as the “People’s Republic of China Law of Energy” is not yet effective, the “People’s Republic of China Law of Energy Saving” can be modified with an additional chapter that specifically acknowledges the accountability-for-target management system. Included in this chapter should be, first, that the ESER goal setting process be a continuously evolving scientific and democratic process in order to assure that goals are realistic and achievable in line with levels of economic development. Secondly, the varied local economic situations of each province, city and designated developing region should be taken into consideration when setting goals so the ESER doesn’t become a burden. Thirdly, government controls which restrict normal industrial and residential electricity consumption to realize ESER goals on paper should be banned. In this way, the interests and rights of businesses and residents can be legally protected. In addition, relevant laws and mechanisms for allowing public participation need to be established to help ensure effective ESER supervision and increase public awareness of goals. Fourthly, ESER goal achievement evaluation should equally emphasize both the process and the result to better promote industrial upgrading and technological innovation. Lastly, the legal consequences of failing to achieve goals should be well determined. At present, responsibility for incomplete tasks undertaken by regional and departmental leaders falls generally within the Party’s disciplinary punishment rules. In future, legal, political and administrative penalties applied to different situations should all be referred to in legislation.
In summary, authoritative, stable and predictable pieces of legislation should be improved and established to play an increasingly important role in China’s national strategy for handling climate change. It will drive the ESER accountability-for-target management transformation from governmental orders to legal implementation.
Cao Wei is a doctoral student at Renmin University of China and Zhang Lu is associate professor at East China University of Political Science and Law.