Several commenters have thoughtful responses to my attempt to reconcile China’s claim that it’s cut its energy intensity by 14.38% since 2005 with the underlying GDP and energy consumption statistics. I also asked a friend who was visiting China last week to poke around, but without luck. My sense is that there’s a simpler explanation to all this:
If the only problem was that I calculated a 14.8% drop and China claimed a 14.4% drop, I’d just chalk that up to rounding errors. That said, though, I’m pretty sure that the fact that my numbers line up is a coincidence. There’s no logical reason to deflate GDP by CPI, and it would be a bizarre departure from standard practice. So I was wrong.
Which leaves only one serious alternative: The GDP and energy consumption numbers are real, but the energy intensity claim is (at least somewhat) invented. I spoke with someone yesterday whom I tend to find among the most reliable watchers of Chinese energy statistics. His guess was that they’ve picked a politically useful number for now, and will gradually reassess the underlying GDP (and perhaps energy consumption) numbers over the next few years so that everything ultimately matches up. This is apparently common practice.
That’s the theory I’m going with too for right now. But I’d still be eager to hear other takes.