China will work to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases emitted for every dollar of gross domestic product and to boost its stock of forests that absorb emissions, Su Wei, China’s lead climate negotiator, said today. The comments are among the most significant from a Chinese official since President Xi Jinping pledged last month to begin to reduce carbon-dioxide pollution around 2030 and expand supplies of renewable power.
Addressing carbon intensity is key as China emits almost twice as much pollution to achieve the same amount of growth as the U.S., according to data from the International Energy Agency. China’s carbon intensity is on par with the U.S. level in 1985.
“We would redouble our efforts in terms of taking actions on climate change for the period up to 2020 and we would markedly reduce the carbon intensity,” Su said at a press conference today at the latest round of United Nations climate talks in Lima.
Su coupled his comments on China’s commitment with a call to accelerate funding for climate aid, shifting the pressure to industrialized nations, led by the U.S. and European Union, to do their part toward reaching an agreement next year.
Rich nation commitments for climate aid are “not adequate” and need to be boosted, Su said.
Xi’s pledge last month to work toward a peak marked the first time a major developing country said it would be bound by restrictions at the UN talks. The move injected momentum into talks on limiting global warming, which have reached a stage where developing nations are being asked for the first time to make commitments on reducing their emissions.
China in 2008 surpassed the U.S. as the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases blamed for global warming. Since it’s deemed a developing country, China hasn’t been required to sign up for pollution caps under a 1997 agreement to curb emissions.
Su’s comments today add credibility to China’s pledge, according to Samantha Smith, global climate and energy initiative leader at the environmental group WWF.
“They’ve made a big commitment,” Smith said in an interview in Lima. “They’ve given a target, and that’s a big deal. It absolutely gives credibility and momentum to the process.”
China will submit its formal pledge by the middle of next year as part of an agreement nations want to finalize in December 2015 in Paris, Su said.
China also will “markedly raise the share of non-fossil fuels in the general share of the energy mix and we will increase our forest stocks markedly, and make the best efforts to peak our emissions as early as possible,” Su said.
Su was critical of the progress industrialized nations have made to boost climate-related aid to $100 billion a year by 2020. The Green Climate Fund, a UN institution meant to channel an unspecified portion of that aid to developing nations, has pledges for about $9.7 billion so far.
The “$10 billion is just one 10th of that objective,” and “we do not have any clear road map of meeting that target for 2020,” Su said. Climate aid is “a trust-building process,” he added.
Su also weighed in on a debate over the period which emissions commitments should be made. China, siding with the EU, favors a 10-year period, because it gives investors greater certainty over the long-term direction of policy.
Island nations and the poorest developing countries want five-year commitment periods so that weak pledges aren’t locked in for too long.
Xi’s pledge in November was made alongside U.S. President Barack Obama, who said the U.S. would double the pace of emissions reductions between 2020 and 2025. It was the first time leaders of the world’s biggest emitters had made a joint pledge to reduce emissions.
“The significance of the China-U.S. announcement is that there’s a general understanding by the leaders of the two countries that climate change is a real threat,” Su said. “A joint announcement does not necessarily blur the distinction between developed and developing countries. They announced their actions but that was in a different manner.”