Boost for UN deal hopes as world’s largest greenhouse gas polluter confirms it will aim to curb emissions in next 15 years
By Ed King
China will aim to peak its greenhouse gas emissions ahead of 2030, the government has confirmed in an official submission to the UN.
The world’s top polluter aims to cut the level of carbon emissions per unit of GDP 60-65% on 2005 levels by 2030, a significant increase on its 40-45% goal for 2020.
It also plans to increase the share of renewables and nuclear in its primary energy consumption mix to 20% by 2030, and boost forest stocks.
In a statement released to the media premier Li Keqiang promised the country would “work hard” to achieve the emissions peak “at an even earlier date”.
China’s decision to tackle climate change was driven by a sense of “responsibility to fully engage in global governance, to forge a community of shared destiny for humankind” the submission said.
The pledge is expected to be the headline of the country’s contribution to a UN climate deal, set to be agreed in the French capital later this year.
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EU climate commissioner Miguel Arias Canete welcomed the announcement as a “positive boost” for negotiations on that deal, which were described as moving “at a snail’s pace” by UN secretary general Ban Ki Moon on Monday.
UK climate chief Amber Rudd said the announcement was a sign that “momentum is building for a deal in Paris”, coming off the back of climate pledges from South Korea, Iceland and Serbia earlier on Tuesday.
Li Shuo, climate analyst for Greenpeace China cautioned against claims China’s commitment was ambitious, calling it a “starting point”.
“It does not fully reflect the significant energy transition that is already taking place in China,” he said.
“Given the dramatic fall in coal consumption, robust renewable energy uptake, and the urgent need to address air pollution, we believe the country can go well beyond what it has proposed today.”
The US and EU have already submitted their plans to the UN, meaning that over 50% of global emissions are now covered.
Still, analysts say these promises are still well off what is needed to avoid dangerous levels of warming.
Liz Gallagher, head of climate diplomacy at London thinktank E3G said the offers were “the floor, not the ceiling” of a deal in Paris. “There is still time for China to ramp up ambition,” she added.
China tops the world ratings for pollution and coal use, but high levels of air pollution have seen the government invest heavily in gas and renewables.
According to the National Bureau of Statistics coal consumption fell 2.9% between 2013-2014, while GDP rose 7.4%.
Over the same period installed wind capacity grew by 25.6% and solar by 67%. In contrast coal generation capacity grew by 5.9%.
To meet its new energy targets the country will need to invest US$6.6 trillion, according to the Climate Group.
“China’s efforts to align its domestic growth agenda and global climate change agenda is a leading example of how a fundamental shift is needed to grow the economy differently,” said Changhua Wu, the NGO’s China director.
If China’s rate of economic growth gradually slows, by 0.2 percent per year (growing by 7% in 2014, 6.8% in 2015 and so on), then its emissions will peak before 2030.
The country’s carbon emissions will peak at 11,787 million tonnes in 2028, if it cuts its carbon intensity by 60% by 2030.
Its carbon emissions will peak at 10,649 million tonnes in 2024, if it cuts its carbon intensity by 65% by 2030.
These calculations assume a steady annual decrease in carbon intensity.
Of course, if the country’s economy grows more slowly or quickly, then its carbon emissions will peak sooner or later.
Read more of Gerard Wynn’s analysis here