Download this worksheet and analyse the cartoon
‧ Why are China and America's carbon targets important to the world's environmental challenges?
‧ What do you think will be decided at the Copenhagen climate change conference next week?
‧ Think of what these countries could do to reduce their carbon footprint.
Mainland unveils carbon target
by Shi Jiangtao in Beijing, South China Morning Post, November 27, 2009
China unveiled a new target for curbing harmful greenhouse gases yesterday with a plan that signals Beijing's determination not to sacrifice economic growth for a reduction of its carbon footprint.
By 2020, China would seek a reduction of 40 to 45 per cent in carbon intensity from 2005 levels, said Xie Zhenhua, the country's top climate negotiator and deputy director of the National Development and Reform Commission. Carbon intensity is the amount of greenhouse gases emitted per unit of gross domestic product.
Beijing also announced that Premier Wen Jiabao would attend the UN climate conference in the Danish capital, ending wide speculation about the likelihood of President Hu Jintao's attendance.
The announcement came just a day after Washington said US President Barack Obama would go to Copenhagen with a proposal of a 17 per cent cut in emissions by 2020 from 2005 levels.
With China and the US, the world's top two carbon polluters, being vilified as key obstacles to the success of the summit, hopes for a binding successor to the Kyoto Protocol have faded. Its binding requirements expire in 2012.
Both have been under immense international pressure to accept mandatory carbon caps to rekindle stalled negotiations.
The announcement of targets by the US and China on successive days has been seen as a bid by both sides to gain initiative ahead of the key talks - or at least to avoid being blamed for their failure.
Instead of accepting a straight-forward carbon reduction target, Hu proposed at a recent UN summit that China would unveil a goal for a "notable" cut in carbon intensity by 2020 from 2005 levels.
This option is preferred by developing nations as it allows them to continue their economic growth while achieving greater efficiency.
One Beijing-based climate negotiator, who asked not be named, said China insisted on setting its own carbon intensity targets due to its concerns that mandatory caps would derail economic growth and impede its rise as a global power. "It has been China's stance over the years that any target to cut carbon emissions should reflect its implications on our economy and development."
Unveiling the new target and a white paper updating China's efforts to tackle climate change this year at a briefing last night, Xie said China was determined to curb emissions despite "tremendous difficulties" and the lack of funding support and technology transfer from rich nations.
Under the Kyoto Protocol, developed nations should provide funds and transfer environmentally friendly technologies to help poor nations tackle climate issues.
"Our new target shows the Chinese government has taken into full consideration the need for sustainable development and the interests of its own people, also the tremendous pressure of balancing surging energy demands and controlling carbon emissions, as well as high international expectations," Xie said.
He said the target could be achieved sooner if developed countries agreed to provide support.
Emphasising that the new target should not be viewed as internationally binding, as China was not required under the Kyoto Protocol to adopt mandatory cuts, Xie said that China would honour the commitment anyway.
The new target on cutting heat-trapping pollution was welcomed by Chinese negotiators and environmentalists.
Jiang Kejun, an expert at the Energy Research Institute under the NDRC, said China had sent an encouraging signal ahead of the summit. He said manoeuvring by the key players of the talks should give way to sincere co-operation to ensure the success of the Copenhagen meeting.
According to his estimate, China's goal on carbon intensity could produce reductions in carbon emissions of as much as 5 billion tonnes by 2020. "Countries have talked too much about what others should do first before they commit themselves to take action. As China and other countries have unveiled their negotiating positions, it's time for them to work together now," Jiang said.
Professor Zou Ji , a former member of China's negotiation team, said his research showed the top range of a carbon intensity goal for the country was 50 per cent, based on the assumption that maximum funding could be provided and there would be no market barriers.
"The announced target already represents a significant reduction from business as usual on the part of China" said Zou, a climate expert at the World Resources Institute, a US-based environmental group. "It is by no means easy for the country because China will have to make a huge effort, including extra funding of more than US$100 billion a year, to cut emissions."
China pledged in 2006 to cut its energy intensity by 20 per cent by 2010 and said it was on track to meet that goal. Mainland officials said the five-year pollution control and energy efficiency drive, which China considered as its key contribution to the global campaign against climate change, could produce gains equivalent to 1.5 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide.
Zou said that although carbon intensity targets were not widely adopted around the world, they suited developing nations such as China well.
"Developing countries like China have to balance economic development, poverty alleviation and pollution control," he said.
In addition to international pressure on China to do more for the fight against global warming, analysts noted it was in China's own interest to take bold steps to curb emissions and make its economy more efficient.
William Yu Yuen-ping, the head of WWF Hong Kong's climate programme, said the announcement of China's target showed Beijing had always wanted to make a deal in Copenhagen. "It seems China is willing to take another step forward for a deal, but the concession will occur on the 'periphery' as it is almost certain it will not adopt an absolute reduction target."
Critics, however, said the target fell short of the level that might spur other nations into action, given the need to strike a climate deal in Copenhagen.
"Given the urgency and magnitude of the climate change crisis, China needs stronger measures to tackle climate change. China could still do more," said Yang Ailun of Greenpeace China.
Analysts also noted that China's decision to send its premier instead of its president to the summit indicated it was not expecting a big breakthrough.
In Hong Kong, the government pledged to reduce its carbon intensity by at least 25 per cent by 2030 from the 2005 level. Achieving the target in 2030 would reduce emissions by 20 million tonnes of greenhouse gas every year.