China pledges 60-65% cut in carbon intensity by 2030

Published 13:25 on June 30, 2015  /  Last updated at 17:49 on June 30, 2015  /  China, Climate Talks, International  /  No Comments

China will cut the carbon intensity of its economy by 60-65% below 2005 levels by 2030, it said Tuesday in a submission to the UNFCCC.

(Updates with further details)

China will cut the carbon intensity of its economy by 60-65% below 2005 levels by 2030, it said Tuesday in a submission to the UNFCCC.

The plan was posted on a UN website and contained four overall pledges where China promised:

– To achieve the peaking of CO2 emissions around 2030 and making best efforts to peak early;
– To lower CO2 emissions per unit of GDP (carbon intensity) by 60% to 65% from 2005 levels;
– To increase the share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption to around 20%; and
– To increase the forest stock volume by around 4.5 billion cubic meters on 2005 levels.

The intensity reduction target is at the lower end of expectations, as China is estimated to be on track to overachieve its current target of reducing its carbon intensity by 40-45% below 2005 levels by 2020.

China has already achieved a 33% reduction in the carbon intensity of its booming economy since 2005, and last month the government ordered its manufacturers to cut current levels by a further 40% by 2025.

A growing number of analysts expect China’s greenhouse gas emissions to peak by 2025 at the latest, some five years ahead of the target announced Tuesday.

“Today’s pledge must be seen as only the starting point for much more ambitious actions. It does not fully reflect the significant energy transition that is already taking place in China. 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,” said Li Shuo, an analyst with Greenpeace China.

Greenpeace calculated that if China sticks to the low end of the new target, its emission reduction efforts would slink after 2020.

“Assuming it meets the top end of its 2020 carbon intensity target, China would have to cut carbon intensity by 3.1% annually in the 2020s to achieve a 60% reduction by 2030, and by 4.4% annually to hit 65%. To hit 45% carbon intensity reduction by 2020 would mean cutting carbon intensity 3.9% a year,” it said.

The mooted reception was echoed by Luke Sussams, a senior researcher with the Carbon Tracker Initiative.

“Today’s confirmation of China’s INDC is important to build momentum in the international climate change process through to Paris in December,” he told Carbon Pulse.

“The targets themselves appear conservative in light of trends in China’s energy system and Carbon Tracker’s forecasts based on recent political signals. As such today’s announcements should be viewed as the very least that could be expected by 2030.”

The INDC included a number of policy measures to control coal consumption and initiate a transfer to a low-carbon economy, as well as emphasising the use of a domestic carbon market to drive CO2 cuts, but it did not go beyond efforts already announced domestically.

Think-tank The Climate Group stressed it was positive that China is making its climate target official, but added: “There are a number of studies that have shown China could peak emissions before 2030. The 60-65% goal represents an increase from previous commitments, but of course depends on what happens to GDP in China. It will be interesting to see if China clarifies this further.”

But some pointed out the peak year is not necessarily the most crucial issue, but what will happen to China’s emissions after that.

“The precise timing of the peak in emissions is not the key issue, because the likely scenario is for a plateauing in emissions,” said Frank Jotzo, a professor at the Australia National University.

“This has been the historical experience in most countries that have peaked, including the United States and most European countries. The main question then is what level of emissions China’s carbon dioxide plateau will be at. China’s iNDC doesn’t give the answer, because it depends crucially on GDP growth in coming years,” he told Carbon Pulse.

One small surprise, perhaps, was China’s call to make the Paris agreement legally binding.

“The 2015 agreement shall be a legally binding agreement implementing the Convention,” the INDC said.

That was a departure from China’s traditional reluctance to making its pledges binding, but it appeared contingent on bringing financial pledges from developed nations into the mix:

“It can take the form of a core agreement plus COP decisions, with mitigation, adaptation, finance, technology development and transfer, capacity 20 building and transparency of action and support being reflected in a balanced manner in the core agreement and relevant technical details and procedural rules being elaborated in COP decisions,” it said.

By Stian Reklev – stian@carbon-pulse.com

To stay updated on countries’ climate pledges, check out our INDC Tracker

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