08/08/2005, 00.00
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Not enough "fuel" for China's economic expansion

In many cities, gasoline for private transport is lacking. Experts are calling for restructuring of the entire production system, among the least efficient in the world.

Beijing (AsiaNews/SCMP) – The torrid Chinese summer weather is leading to an acute lack of electric power and oil in Guangdong, so much so that supplies have run out in many petrol stations.

In recent weeks, the Pearl River Delta region – which has a very dynamic economy – has experienced an exceptional oil shortage. Long queues of cars and trucks are parked in front of petrol stations, which are often out of gasoline. In Guangzhou, Zhongshan and other cities of Guangdong, petrol sales are being rationed. The scarcity has led to an increase in prices: taxi and truck drivers are complaining about losses due to higher prices and to time spent waiting in the queue at distributors. An increase in taxi fares has already been approved in Guangzhou. Wu Linbo, vice-director of the local Pricing Bureau, said this was down to the increased cost of petrol.

Official sources of the government of Guangdong predicts the oil shortage in the region will last for the whole month of August, even for consumption linked to air conditioners, agriculture and fishing.

But the shortage has taken on serious proportions in all large Chinese cities. Already from July, the central government issued drastic measures to reduce energy consumption, among them a provision for all government offices to keep the temperature of air conditioners at 26 degrees centigrade. The municipal government of Beijing has asked all officials not to wear suits and ties for internal meetings. And a national education campaign geared towards saving energy is under way.

Analysts say such measures are piecemeal and a long-term energy consumption strategy is called for. They point out that China's production system is rendered less efficient by higher energy expenditure in comparison to other countries: if use of energy was as efficient as in Japan, China's current energy demands would be satisfied for the coming 60 years. Under fire are also building policies which favored the realization of skyscrapers made of glass and steel, beautiful to look at, but not equipped to save energy. On the contrary, they are a new source of environmental pollution. For example, the National Theatre in Beijing, which cost taxpayers three billion yuan – a palace built like a giant egg reflecting the rays of the summer sun on neighbouring palaces – constricts those who live and work nearby to close all the shutters and keep air conditioning full on. This situation makes China very vulnerable to oil price hikes.

In the short-term, according to experts, actual consumption must decrease. National media report, for example, that government office buildings consume large amounts of electrical energy, around 15% of national consumption, equal to 80 billion yuan per year. This is why measures like a ban on jackets and ties for internal meetings make sense.

Another useful measure may be to move clocks one hour forward during summer, when darkness falls later. This was already done between 1986 and 1991 and now it is done in the United States and many European counties (the c.d. "legal time"), where it allows for energy saving.

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