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China Offers Specific Carbon Targets
Published on: 2009-11-30
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BEIJING -- China unveiled targets to slow its carbon emissions and said Premier Wen Jiabao would attend the global climate-change summit in Copenhagen next month, a day after Washington laid out concrete U.S. emission targets for the first time and announced that President Barack Obama would join the meeting. But China's widely expected offer falls short of a cap on emissions. The Chinese State Council, or cabinet, said Thursday that China would aim to cut carbon intensity -- the amount of carbon-dioxide emissions per unit of gross domestic product -- by a range of 40% to 45% by 2020.


The move would be a "binding goal" incorporated into the country's mid- and long-term development plans, the cabinet said.

China and the U.S. are the world's largest emitters of greenhouse gases and have wrangled for years over who should shoulder more of the burden of cutting emissions.

At Copenhagen, Mr. Obama intends to propose that the U.S. cut its greenhouse-gas emissions by 17% below 2005 levels by 2020, and by 83% by 2050. It marks the first time the Obama administration has formally offered specific commitments.

The Chinese targets will add to the momentum to achieve some kind of agreement at the Copenhagen summit. But because they are only a pledge to cut relative levels of emissions -- not a promise to cap or cut back total greenhouse gasses from current levels -- some observers feel they won't be enough to get more than a political commitment from the meeting instead of a binding international treaty.

Still, the Chinese move is significant, representing the first time that China has spelled out its goals for slowing carbon emissions.

The United Nation's top climate negotiator, Yvo de Boer, said in a statement he welcomes both the U.S. and the Chinese moves. "The U.S. commitment to specific, midterm emission-cut targets and China's commitment to specific action on energy efficiency can unlock two of the last doors to a comprehensive agreement," he said.

"This is a significant announcement at a very important point in time. But China could do more," said Ailun Yang of Greenpeace China. "Given the urgency and magnitude of the climate-change crisis, China needs stronger measures to tackle climate change." Ms. Yang added that "if they had announced 45% to 50% then we could say they were ambitious."

The WWF also welcomed China's announcement. "A 40% to 45% reduction in China's carbon intensity from business-as-usual projections is far from trivial," said Kim Carstensen, the leader of WWF's global climate initiative.

China's top climate envoy said the Chinese targets were a domestic voluntary action rather than an international one. But "Chinese people stick to their word," Xie Zhenhua, deputy head of the powerful National Development and Reform Commission, the former state planning agency, told a news conference.

Mr. Xie said that China now expects "real action" by the West on funding and technical support before the Copenhagen meeting. So far, such support had failed to materialize, he said.

China has proposed that developed nations contribute 1% of gross domestic product to subsidize efforts by poorer nations to cut carbon-dioxide emissions. That translates to more than $140 billion for the U.S. alone. U.S. officials have dismissed the Chinese proposal as "untethered from reality."

Some observers say the low end of the new Chinese target is just an extension of energy policies already in place. China has a goal of cutting its energy intensity -- measured as energy used per unit of GDP -- by 20% to 2010 from 2006, a goal that Mr. Xie said is achievable. China's energy-efficiency goals are also motivated by energy security concerns. But burning less coal -- the source of 80% of China's electricity -- means less carbon is released into the air.

Even a 40% drop could be hard to reach because many of the easy gains have already been achieved, warns Zou Ji, the China representative of the World Resources Institute. "The future is harder, the potential gains will become smaller and smaller," Mr. Zou said.

In addition, measuring carbon intensity poses a huge statistical and scientific challenge for China. For example, it is hard to determine how much carbon is absorbed by increasing China's forest coverage to create carbon sinks.

"My feeling is that even if we set up this goal, it will not be easy to reach," Mr. Zou said. "We will need to do very hard work. I'm not so optimistic we can reach that. But we can try."

A Chinese foreign ministry statement said Mr. Wen would attend the Copenhagen meetings, which run from Dec. 7 to 18. Mr. Obama will show up on Dec. 9.

Source: The Wall Street Journal
 

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