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China vows to slow carbon emissions growth

China announced plans to cut its carbon emissions by up to 45 percent as measured against its economic output.
President Barack Obama gestures to Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao prior to a meeting in Beijing on Nov. 18. China said Thursday that Wen will take part in next month's Copenhagen climate summit.David Gray / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

China announced plans Thursday to cut its carbon emissions by up to 45 percent as measured against its economic output — a commitment from the world's largest polluter that builds momentum ahead of a widely anticipated climate conference in Copenhagen next month.

The announcement comes a day after President Barack Obama promised the U.S. would lay out plans to substantially cut its greenhouse gas emissions at the summit.

China announced earlier Thursday that Premier Wen Jiabao will take part in the Copenhagen meeting to show the country's commitment to the global effort to reduce greenhouse emissions. The State Council announcement proposes to cut carbon intensity — carbon dioxide emissions per unit of gross domestic product — by 40 to 45 percent by 2020, compared with levels in 2005.

The goal does not mean that it will cut its total carbon emissions by 2020. In fact, given the expected huge increases in its economy over the next decade, its global warming emissions should increase — but at a much slower pace than if China had made no changes.

India, the world's fifth-biggest greenhouse gas emitter, has proposed a similar policy to link emissions to growth in gross domestic product, defined as a broad measure of the value of the nation's total output of goods and services.

'Voluntary action'
China's State Council, or Cabinet, said it "is a voluntary action taken by the Chinese government based on its own national conditions and is a major contribution to the global effort in tackling climate change."

It said the improvements would come through better research and development, clean coal technology, advanced nuclear energy and better transportation systems. Tax laws and regulations will also be changed to encourage energy efficiency.

The proposal follows closely on the heels of a White House announcement that Obama will attend the start of the Copenhagen conference to personally commit the U.S. to reducing carbon dioxide emissions by about 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020.

Yu Jie, head of policy and research programs for The Climate Group China, a non-governmental group, welcomed both announcements. She described China's 45 percent target as "quite aggressive."

"For the climate community, of course we welcome so much this kind of effort. Before Copenhagen, we desperately need this good news. We got two pieces within a day," Yu said.

Still, the Dec. 7-18 conference is unlikely to produce a binding agreement. The original goal of the conference was to produce a new global climate change treaty to replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. But in recent weeks it became clear that delegates were likely to produce at best an outline for an agreement to be considered late next year.

Despite setting a target on carbon emissions, it does not mean China will accept an international treaty that sets a binding target for it.

China has said repeatedly it will seek binding pollution targets for developed countries and reject similar requirements for itself at Copenhagen.

"We hope to reach a fair and reasonable arrangement" at Copenhagen, Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang told a news conference Thursday. "Wen's attendance fully demonstrates the importance attached to this."

China has said it was unfair that all countries be required to play a role combating global warming since most of the environmental damage was caused by developed nations during their industrialization over the last 100 to 200 years.

China has already said renewables such as solar and wind power will supply 15 percent of its energy needs by 2020.

Yang Ailun, climate campaign manager for Greenpeace China, said that in order to meet the carbon emissions target, China will have to use more renewable energy sources like solar and wind power and look for new ways to reduce its heavy dependence on coal.