China's ambitious economic growth plans are environmentally unachievable because the world does not have enough resources to allow its 1.3 billion people to become Western-style consumers, a UN official said yesterday.
Klaus Toepfer, head of the UN Environment Program, said China's aim of quadrupling its economy by 2020 can only occur if developed nations radically change their consumption habits to free up scarce resources for the world's poor.
"Quadrupling the GDP of a country of 1.3 billion, can you imagine what are the consequences if you go in the same structure as was done in the so-called developed countries?" Toepfer told reporters during a visit to Sydney.
He said that if China had the same density of private cars as, for example Germany, it would have to produce 650 million vehicles -- a target that environmentalists say the world's supply of metal and oil would be unable to sustain.
"It's not a question whether you are devoted to nature or whether this is an emotional topic. This is the rationality of economics," Toepfer said.
China's GDP, grew 8 percent last year and the government expects it to expand another 7 percent this year.
Toepfer was in Australia to attend a conference of young environmentalists from Asia, discussing ways of changing consumer habits so that precious resources such as water are conserved.
He said the world's approach to resource use was going through a significant phase with slow economic growth persuading governments in Europe and North America to aggressively try to stimulate consumption.
While senior Chinese officials appeared to be fully aware of the constraints the environment placed on their economic plans, Toepfer said more work needed to be done in developed nations to make environmentally friendly products "trendy" and mainstream.