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[BEIJING] China failed to reach the first-year target of its five-year energy efficiency plan, state media reported on Friday (12 January), apparently due to both economic and population growth.

Only six cities, including Beijing and Tianjin, met the reduced energy consumption target, calculated as both four percent per person and per Gross Domestic Product (GDP), according to state news agency Xinhua.

The Chinese government has not revealed how severely it failed to reach the target. The energy efficiency plan was announced in March, with the government vowing to slash energy consumption - both per capita and as a percentage of total economic output - by 20 per cent in five years.

But Ma Kai, minister of the National Development and Reform Commission, which governs investment and energy policies in China, said in a speech that the country's economic growth had outstripped energy efficiency gains. China's economy grew by an estimated 10.5 per cent in 2006.

Despite the failure, Fang Weizhong, president of the China Macroeconomics Society, wrote in a report (12 January) that the five-year efficiency goal could still be met by massively increasing energy technologies, particularly in the coal-dominated power sector.

But Yang Jianlong, an energy researcher at the state council's Development and Research Centre, doubts the possibility of reducing energy consumption.

"China's economy has entered a new stage, featuring tremendous expansion of the heavy energy-consuming industries, such as steelmaking and car manufacturing. It is very difficult to reduce energy consumption as a whole," he told SciDev.Net.

Elsewhere, in an article published on (12 January), two scientists write that the rising cost of pollution will inhibit the country's future development.

Jiang Gaoming and Gao Jixi, from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the China Academy of Environmental Sciences respectively, recommend that the government look at achievements in environmental protection when evaluating officials.

"Many of China's problems are questions of interests, and for officials this means their record of achievements," they write.

They also suggest increased funding for environmental protection, more education on the topic and stronger laws.