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In Copenhagen, Updates From China On Its Carbon Intensity Target

Chinese officials give more details on carbon intensity targets at their first ever dedicated space at a major climate meeting.

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Senior Chinese climate statesman He Jiankun, speaking at the Chinese Pavilion at the Copenhagen Climate Talks, announced yesterday that the Chinese carbon intensity would be introduced as legislation to be passed by China’s National People’s Congress, its highest law-making body.

Professor He, the Director of Tsinghua University’s Low Carbon Energy Laboratory and the University’s former Executive Vice President, spoke December 9 as part of a series of regular talks the Chinese are sponsoring in their first ever dedicated space at a major climate meeting.

Professor He emphasized that China’s commitment to making the 40-45% reduction in carbon intensity between 2005 and 2020 will be binding domestically, and that the government would also focus on implementing specific programs to meet it. He argued a carbon intensity goal is the best way to measure progress on climate change mitigation for a country in the midst of rapid industrialization and urbanization.

Professor He said many countries in a similar period of development actually see their energy intensity rise. He cited statistics that in Japan between 1960 and 1974 energy intensity increased 23%, and that in Korea between 1971 and 1997 it increased 45%. In contrast he said China’s period of increasing energy intensity was just five years (2000-2005) and that intensity increased 2%. He described this trend toward increasing energy intensity as the “BAU scenario” that China has successfully reversed since 2005.

After a slow start in the first year, He noted that China has met its energy intensity improvement goals in 2007 and 2008. He projected that energy intensity would improve again in 2009, making the four year total 14% and estimated that the total would be 18% through the end of 2010. While this is seemingly short of China’s stated 20% energy intensity goal in the 11th Five Year Plan (2006-2010), He said that actually the target had been a range: 20% more or less (20%左右). He said firstly, 18% is within the target range, but also argued forcefully that to focus on the specific target is to miss the major advance. He said the most important aspect of the program was that China had successfully reversed the upward trend in energy intensity.

He suggested that the challenges in meeting these targets will be significant. Not only is there the complexity of expanding the range of the energy efficiency and renewables programs, but He said they would also be more expensive.

When asked if China had a specific carbon intensity number that it will be using for the announced 2005 baseline year, Professor He said China has not completed the carbon emissions calculation yet. He noted that China is currently developing its greenhouse gas inventories for the UNFCCC Second National Communications with both Chinese experts and international assistance (an apparent reference to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Memorandum of Understanding signed last month. Professor He said once China has calculated its emissions through this process, it will establish the intensity number for 2005 that will then serve as the baseline number for its commitment.

Professor He’s talk was followed by a talk on climate impacts and adaptation by another of China’s leading climate experts, Professor Lin Erda of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences. Professor Lin spoke of the climate impacts China is already seeing, in particular declining river flows since the 1950s. The most extreme example he said was the Hai River, which has 26% less run-off. He predicted additional challenges in the future, including temperature changes with significant regional variation, rising by as much as 5 degrees C in some parts of China if the world’s average temperature rises by 2 or 3 degrees C. He also estimated that China’s crop productivity would decline by 5 to 10% by 2030 with changes in temperature and water availability.

These talks are part of the most concerted outreach effort we’ve seen by a Chinese delegation to global climate talks. This follows the more active public affairs strategy that began in the summer as Chinese diplomats and officials have focused on getting their point of view into the public discourse, rather than focusing only on discussions among delegates. At Copenhagen, they have set up a dedicated area, are actively seeking out those interested, and are planning to have talks and press conferences every day of the conference. Those staffing the center acknowledged that the Chinese delegation made this decision rather late and therefore has a smaller space than they would like. The daily press conferences have been difficult to get into simply because many more people want to enter the room than can be accommodated.

For more on the most recent press conferences, take a look at ChinaFAQs contributor Angel Hsu’s blog. Angel has a fascinating report on China’s statements that it is seeking assistance for the G77 not itself in the financing discussions, as well as its moves in the plenary.


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