China's Cooperation is Essential in the Global Warming Fight

| by NRDC

China yesterday announced that Premier Wen Jiabao will attend the
Copenhagen climate summit and that he will bring with him a target for
China of reducing carbon intensity by 40 to 45 percent from 2005 levels
by 2020. Coming a day after the announcement across the Pacific that
President Obama will attend the beginning of the summit, bringing a
commitment to reduce U.S. emissions "in the range of 17%" from 2005
levels by 2020, this means that we now know what the world's two
largest emitters will be bringing to the table when the world's
countries gather in Copenhagen.

The official announcement (in Chinese here)
notes that on November 25, Premier Wen Jiabao and the State Council
standing committee met and decided upon the 2020 target and
corresponding measures to achieve it. Of note are the following

1.) What exactly does the carbon intensity target cover?
China will reduce its carbon intensity, the CO2 emitted per unit GDP,
by 40 to 45 percent from 2005 levels by 2020. This carbon intensity
target will measure only the CO2 emissions from energy consumption and industrial activity,
the source of most of China's emissions, and does not take into account
efforts to reduce emissions or increase sinks from land use and
forestry. This makes sense given that estimating emissions from land
use and forestry is less precise than measuring emissions from fuel
combustion and industrial activity, both of which are also more tightly
linked to GDP than land use and forestry.

  • 2.) How will this be implemented? In order to
    measure the progress it is making in achieving this target, China will
    include the carbon intensity target in its medium and long-term social
    and economic development plans and develop corresponding statistics,
    monitoring and evaluation systems to measure progress. Thus, we can
    expect that the next five year plan (2010-2015) will include systems
    for monitoring and evaluating officials' and enterprises' performance
    in meeting the specific carbon intensity reduction targets allocated to
    them, similar to how the government implemented its target setting and
    official evaluation system for the twenty percent energy intensity
    reduction target in the current 11th Five Year Plan.
  • 3.) Will the target be binding internationally? At the moment, the carbon intensity target is only a voluntary action and is not intended to be binding internationally.
    However, the carbon intensity reduction targets will be mandatory
    ("约束性") domestically for provinces and enterprises within China,
    similar to how the current energy intensity targets are mandatory, with
    consequences for officials of provinces and enterprises who do not meet
    their assigned targets.
  • 4.) Is the 40 - 45% target significant? Although there
    is debate about how much of a reduction this 40 to 45 percent carbon
    intensity reduction target is from a "business as usual" scenario, we
    should keep in mind a few points. First, how we define "business as
    usual" matters. As part of its current 11th Five Year Plan, China took
    on a goal of reducing its energy intensity by 20% from 2006-10, which
    has led to a coordinated energy efficiency program that includes
    actions such as closing down smaller, inefficient power plants and
    outdated, inefficient iron and steel, cement and other manufacturing
    capacity, and improving the efficiency of the Top 1,000 energy
    consuming enterprises. If China succeeds in reducing its energy
    intensity by 20% by 2010, this would result in the avoidance of a billion tons of CO2 emissions. China should be given credit for these efforts and not penalized for taking early action.
  • Second, the International Energy Agency has noted that the commitments from China and the US are roughly in line
    with the actions they have estimated to be necessary to reach a
    concentration of 450 parts CO2 per million, what scientists have deemed
    is necessary to keep global temperatures from rising more than two
    degrees Celsius. While we would hope that both China and the U.S. will
    seek to raise the level of their ambition, both proposals are
    substantial and require real improvements in energy efficiency and
    low-carbon energy to achieve.

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    The other important thing to remember is the significance of the
    carbon intensity target for creating the proper framework and
    incentives for reducing emissions. As noted above, a carbon intensity
    target will require each province and major enterprise to measure,
    report and reduce their CO2 emissions and energy consumption,
    year-on-year, acting as a driver for greater efficiency and
    renewables. In this way, the carbon intensity target is similar to the
    US greenhouse gas mandatory reporting rule or the cap-and-trade system
    in the current climate legislation before Congress, which put in place
    the proper incentives and systems to transition to a low-carbon, clean
    energy economy. Provinces, local governments and enterprises will need
    to establish and improve systems for measuring and reporting emissions,
    and there will be increasing pressure on these enterprises and
    provinces to enact measures within their development plans for making
    continuous improvements in energy efficiency and renewable energy. At
    the national level, China will need to continue and accelerate its
    policies to boost energy efficiency and renewables, and it will need to
    build its capacity to measure and report emissions for its national
    greenhouse gas inventory on a yearly basis (something which EPA and
    China's National Development and Reform Commission have recently agreed to cooperate on).

    Just as important as the targets they have set for themselves, China
    and the US must continue to accelerate their efforts to develop low
    carbon economies based on energy efficiency, renewables, and the
    development of clean technologies such as smart grids and electric
    vehicles. Both countries stand to benefit from the transition to a
    clean energy economy, by growing new clean industries and jobs,
    reducing their independence on dirty fossil fuels, and reducing their
    contribution to climate change and environmental damage. China can
    achieve a substantial reduction in its carbon intensity while
    continuing to grow its economy and providing an improved standard of
    living and a better environment for its citizens.

    China's carbon intensity target is certainly a step in the right
    direction, and it provides the right incentives for future improvements
    in reducing emissions. Following the U.S.'s own emissions reduction
    announcement and the recent bilateral clean energy initiatives
    announced during President Obama's visit, we are beginning to see the
    outlines for a meaningful framework agreement in Copenhagen and a
    foundation for both countries to demonstrate leadership in addressing
    climate change.