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Washington Times: “China vows to dramatically slow emissions growth.”

By Joe Romm on November 29, 2009 at 3:07 pm

"Washington Times: “China vows to dramatically slow emissions growth.”"

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China promised to slow its carbon emissions, saying it would nearly halve the ratio of pollution to GDP over the next decade “” a major move by the world’s largest emitter, whose cooperation is crucial to any deal as a global climate summit approaches.Beijing’s voluntary pledge Thursday came a day after President Barack Obama promised the U.S. would lay out plans at the summit to substantially cut its own greenhouse gas emissions. Together, the announcements are building momentum for next month’s meeting in Copenhagen.

“Governments from all over the world are delivering before the climate conference,” Denmark’s Climate Minister Connie Hedegaard said. “U.S. and China have come forward. All across the globe, things are moving. This is good news.”

If China did nothing and its economy doubles in size as expected in coming years, its emissions would likely double as well. Thursday’s pledge means emissions would only increase by 50 percent in such a scenario.

Environmental groups and leaders largely welcomed China’s move.

“Before Copenhagen, we desperately need this good news,” said Yu Jie, head of policy and research programs for The Climate Group China, a non-governmental group. She described China’s 45 percent target as “quite aggressive.”

… Yvo de Boer, the United Nations climate chief, said the pledges by China and the U.S. pave the way for a deal.”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.

That’s from the conservative Washington Times (subs. req’d) story “China vows to dramatically slow emissions growth.”

Is this a big deal?  Is this a game-changer, is this a “possible breakthrough in Denmark next month in the long-stalled climate negotiations” as the Washington Post put it Friday?  Yes and no.  This isn’t really a game changer because it has been so long in the making — see my May post, “Exclusive: Have China and the U.S. been holding secret talks aimed at a climate deal this fall?“  The game changing on the Chinese side came two months ago (see “Are Chinese emissions pledges a game changer for Senate action?“):

China’s emissions pledge shakes up Capitol Hill debate

“¦ “That’s encouraging,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). “That will help us make decisions on our emission problems.”

Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) said “¦ “that’s a step in the right direction.”

That’s from E&E News in September.

The Chinese target could have been stronger.  I would like to have seen a 50% or higher target for carbon intensity reduction.  I do think this represents a divergence from business as usual — it should result in an annual CO2 growth rate of 4% or less, which is under half the annual growth rate of the past decade.  But it basically just requires a continuation of their energy efficiency gains since 2005 plus the various renewable energy pledges they have made (see “China begins transition to a clean-energy economy“).   In that sense, China’s 2020 target is a lot like ours — a good start but it could be a lot better.

In fact, China’s emissions need to peak in the 2020-2025 timeframe to give us a real shot at beating 450 ppm — and I expect they will (see “Peaking Duck: Beijing’s Growing Appetite for Climate Action“).  The Washington Post interviewed me on this very point Thursday (yes, Thanksgiving day):

“The big unknown is how fast China’s going to grow,” said Joe Romm, who edits the blog ClimateProgress.org for the liberal Center for American Progress Action Fund. He noted, however, that the government may make deeper cuts because it tends to ratchet up its energy goals. Just recently, he said, China tripled its target for wind energy production. “China has a history of strengthening these targets,” he said.

I am quite certain that China will cut their carbon intensity by far more than 50% by 2020.

The bottom line is that the specific Chinese announcement today is only a medium-sized deal, but the evolution of the US-China partnership on climate and clean energy is a huge deal — and should set the stage for a genuine global deal coming out of Copenhagen.

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9 Responses to Washington Times: “China vows to dramatically slow emissions growth.”

  1. Leif says:

    I continue to feel that it makes no difference what the Nations decide as a present commitment as long as it is something to get the ball rolling. Each passing day the perils of inaction manifest themselves that much stronger. “Grim realities” will soon have us sitting at the table clamoring for stronger action, probably within a year or two.
    An International Accord should at least have the effect of taking some of the wind out of the tin-hat’s sails, or perhaps to be more accurate, some of the steam out of their boilers.

  2. Jeff says:

    It’s true that we’ve known for a while, but at least this will make the argument “But China’s emission’s are much greater than ours – if we cut our emissions and China doesn’t, then it won’t even matter!” obsolete. One less excuse for the delayers

  3. Dan B says:

    Also noteworthy are the initiatives the Chinese have already undertaken. A friend visited China this year and was amazed at the number of clean quiet electric cars on the streets of Shanghai, the solar panels and high efficiency of their skyscrapers, the new additions to rural homes – around big tubs full of free hot water, lighting by methane from their livestock, electricity in every rammed-earth home, and no power lines. Like much of the developing world they’ve gone from no electricity (no phones) to the next technology.

    Our infrastructure is ancient and in need of upgrading. Our youth are excited about the green energy future. Will we get back in the game or will China’s youth eat the future of America’s children?

    Senator Inhofe – are you hearing the distant rumble?

  4. Karel says:

    “China promised to slow its carbon emissions, saying it would nearly halve the ratio of pollution to GDP over the next decade

    … If China did nothing and its economy doubles in size as expected in coming years, its emissions would likely double as well. Thursday’s pledge means emissions would only increase by 50 percent in such a scenario.”

    Joe, I don’t get it: halving the ratio of pollution to GDP, while doubling the economy, means that emissions remain flat, not that they increase by 50 percent!

    [JR: They didn't quite agree to halving, and over the time period in question, they are expected to more than double their economy. BUT to the extent that their growth slows post-2010, then the target does indeed become stronger from the perspective of absolute emissions.]

  5. David Stern says:

    Karel is correct on the math. The Chinese target is about as ambitious as the US one when both are expressed in terms of carbon intensity:

    http://stochastictrend.blogspot.com/2009/11/chinas-intensity-target-is-at-least-as.html

    But under BAU the Chinese economy is expected to more than double in size in the 2005-2020 period…

    Those saying that this is no big deal are relying on IEA emissions projections for China that it seems that none of us here in Australia (e.g. Warwick McKibbin, Frank Jotzo, Stephen Howes, or myself) believe. I think we all think that this target is quite ambitious but maybe doable.

    [JR: That was my point, so I certainly agree.]

  6. Raleigh Latham says:

    Well, China will take the lead at mitigating Climate Change, because it has the most to lose, $9 trillion estimated cost to China by 2050. One thing that China definitely leads the U.S in is investment, and political willpower. China still enforces the 1 child policy rule, and brutally punishes business corruption with the death penalty. They also hold an enormous quantity of our treasury reserves to fuel their own projects.

    While the U.S might drag its feet about creating vertical farms, renewable energy, and enforcing carbon taxes, China will probably be able to things on a much bigger scale, even though it still relies on a completely unsustainable economic model.

    By 2020, I’m guessing every country on earth will have to put the same WW2, total-war effort to fight climate change.

  7. Rick says:

    I read (in an internet comment so it could be way off) that if China were to meet it’s soft “targets” it would increase CO2 production by about 17 Canadas. That’s really all we could hope for.

    [JR: Blame Canada!]

  8. Every year i hear that US bad-mouth about china’s human rights issues, but what The U.S and other countries should pay more attention, is that China’s growing economy is pushing our world on a track that the western countries have struggled for years to avoid, every green organization should go to china and look at the polutions with their own eyes!

  9. Kelly says:

    Perhaps you can clarify something for me. Is China’s target expressed in terms or real or nominal GDP? If one were to assume China’s historic GDP growth rate continued through 2020, what % change would we expect in emissions? (the example of doubling the economy is not realistic over a 15 year period as China’s economy will likely quadruple over that time, right?)

    [JR: Typically it is real GDP.]