China's top environmental watchdog admitted yesterday that the government had failed to meet its conservation and pollution targets last year. According to a report outlining emission figures for major pollutants posted on its website, the State Environmental Protection Administration (Sepa) blamed the inefficient use of energy and inaccurate economic projections for the failure to hit the targets. The report said sulfur dioxide emissions - the main contributor to acid rain - increased by 463,000 tonnes to 25.94 million tonnes last year, up 1.8 per cent compared with 2005. Chemical oxygen demand (COD) - a water pollution index - reached 14.31 million tonnes, an increase of 173,000 tonnes, or 1.2 per cent. Coal consumption rose nearly 230 million tonnes last year, resulting in the release of an extra 2.8 million tonnes of sulfur dioxide. Sepa director Zhou Shengxian said China had set the targets based on projected economic rates. 'The economic growth rate last year was 3.2 percentage points higher than expected, therefore the emission pollutants increased in line with the GDP growth,' Mr Zhou said. According to the 11th Five-Year Programme, China has set a more modest annual economic growth target of 7.5 per cent a year for the five-year period. Last year, China's economy grew 10.7 per cent. Tsinghua University researcher Yuan Gangming said it was wrong and illogical to set emission control targets based on conservative growth forecasts. 'The practice of setting the target based on the lowest end of GDP growth is flawed because that would mean we would have to limit our economic growth to just 7.5 per cent,' Mr Yuan said. 'However, nobody has said China's economy could grow only at that speed.' Mr Yuan said China's energy consumption would inevitably rise because its industries were developing at a fast pace. 'It would make more sense to set a target of reducing the increase of pollution instead of forcing a reduction - unless our pollution discharge was already very excessive,' Mr Yuan said. 'But I don't think we have achieved our fast growth of the economy in the past three to four years at the expense of our environment.' He said it would be even more risky if China set unrealistically high control targets because that would force officials to lie about the situation to escape responsibility.