[Given the importance of China to the fate of the climate, I am happy to introduce a new guest blogger, Robert Collier. He is a visiting scholar at U.C. Berkeley, writing a book about China and global warming. He is a former senior foreign-affairs correspondent for SF Chronicle who reported "from a total of 25 nations on the politics and diplomacy of global warming, international energy policy, the environment and trade."]
After Saturday’s sputtering end of the U.N. climate talks in Poznan, Poland, it’s clearer than ever that the fate of the post-Kyoto negotiations will depend on whether China can be coaxed to adopt some sort of carbon emissions limits. But as this tug of war plays out in the next year and beyond, what’s most important is not what China says on the diplomatic front but what it does on the home front.
The news on that score is mixed at best. On Friday, the central government admitted that the country is sliding backward in its crucial benchmark for its campaign to increase energy efficiency throughout the economy. The National Development and Reform Commission, China’s super-cabinet agency for economic policy, announced that energy consumption per unit of GDP (what the Chinese call “energy intensity”) fell 3.46 percent over the first three quarters. That’s well below the goal of a 20 percent reduction from 2006 to 2010, which would require 4 percent annual reduction. In fact, 2008 will be the third successive year to fail to reach the benchmark. (The figures for 2006 and 2007 were 1.79 percent and 3.66 percent respectively.) Even worse, the pace of improvement slackened notably during this year’s third quarter, with energy intensity falling only 0.58 percent.
All of this is especially bad news because the energy intensity campaign has been the Chinese government’s single most prominent initiative related to global warming. Over the past two years, Chinese officials and diplomats have touted the campaign far and wide, citing it as proof that China is actually taking tough steps to reduce its emissions.
[JR: I would add that China's energy intensity target is no more meaningful than Bush's carbon intensity target (see "Bush Touts Meaningless Greenhouse Gas Targets While Making his Double-U-Turn on Climate"). So what if China reduces its annual energy use per unit GDP by 4% if its GDP is rising 8% to 10% a year and the resulting 4% to 6% growth in energy is met primarily by coal?]