China Sticks to Carbon-Intensity Target, Dismisses CO2 Cap

China’s Chief Climate Negotiator Su Wei reaffirmed his nation’s commitment to lower emissions relative to economic output while dismissing reports that it will adopt an absolute cap on greenhouse gases.

The Financial Times and Independent newspapers both said last month that China is looking to introduce a cap in 2016. The Independent cited a proposal by the National Development and Reform Commission, the economic planning agency where Su works. The FT cited Jiang Kejun, an NDRC carbon-policy researcher.

“The paper quoted an expert,” Su said today in an interview in Bonn, where two weeks of climate talks began yesterday. “It’s not necessarily presenting the view of the government or the NDRC. The NDRC would reaffirm that we have committed to a carbon-intensity target by 2020.”

Su’s comments are the first by a senior Chinese negotiator since the reports were published. While not an outright denial, they suggest China isn’t ready to announce a cap at the United Nations talks in Germany, where such a move may have spurred other nations to step up measures against global warming.

“What I have seen so far is speculation in the press, but I haven’t seen China really coming out and saying it,” Artur Runge-Metzger, the European Commission’s lead envoy at the talks, said in an interview. “It could really unlock the negotiations and show leadership by China. It could be changing the game, depending on the content.”

Largest Emitter

Envoys are waiting for China to take leadership because it’s the biggest emitter, said Fuqiang Yang, senior adviser on energy, environment and climate change for the Washington-based Natural Resources Defense Council’s China program.

“An absolute peaking of Chinese emissions is one scenario, and they’re looking at many possibilities,” Yang said in an interview in Bonn. “They’re not yet ready to pick one of the scenarios to announce internationally.”

Envoys at the UN talks aim to craft a new climate treaty by 2015 that will take effect in 2020. They’re also discussing how to raise emission-reduction targets in the meantime, with the World Bank warning that global temperatures may increase by 4 degrees Celsius, double the internationally agreed goal.

The average concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere exceeded 400 parts per million last month for the first time at the Hawaiian monitoring station that first began tracking the gas in 1958. That threshold hasn’t been passed in millions of years, scientific studies show.

Behind Schedule

“Allowing the concentration to rise further would be suicidal,” Nepalese envoy Prakash Mathema told delegates today in Bonn. “We are behind schedule and time is not on our side.”

The emphasis at previous UN talks has been for developed nations to take the lead by adopting absolute emission caps, with developing countries taking voluntary measures. The 2015 deal will mark the first time developing nations accept binding targets, and pressure has mounted on China to boost its efforts.

China’s current goal is to reduce emissions per dollar of economic output by 40 percent to 45 percent in 2020, from 2005 levels. With a growing economy, that may still allow emissions to rise, whereas an absolute cap would set a carbon ceiling.

“There are lots of ways we can achieve the carbon-intensity target by 2020,” Su said. “We would certainly make arrangements in both the 12th and 13th five-year plans to achieve that objective.”

The 12th of China’s five-year plans, which chart economic priorities and targets, runs from 2011 through 2015, and the 13th runs through 2020.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Morales in Bonn via amorales2@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Reed Landberg via landberg@bloomberg.net.

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