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Alex Wang’s Blog

Meeting China’s Climate Targets

Alex Wang

Posted December 10, 2009

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The level of interest in what China will do in these Copenhagen negotiations is intense.  On Tuesday afternoon we went to the first public Chinese press event of the negotiations at the China delegation office.  We arrived to find people overflowing out of the door.  Three times as many people as could fit in the briefing room had arrived.

China Su Wei

Afterwards, we went straight from the press event to our NRDC-organized side event on “China and the World: Solving climate change through practical, on-the-ground collaboration.” Standing room only again (see here for an overview of the event).

Our panel addressed, as the title suggests, ways in which China on its own and in partnership with the rest of the world is driving toward climate change solutions.  I addressed the question of how China implements (and will implement) its climate targets and policies.  Lü Xuedu, deputy director-general, National Climate Center, China Meteorological Administration, touched on a number of the same points (for example he mentioned the high-level leading group on climate chaired by Premier Wen Jiabao).  The key point is that China has, over several years, built up a complex administrative framework to drive implementation of its energy and environmental targets. 

China has recognized the harm that climate change will cause the nation, but is at the same time also driven to achieve its climate-related targets (energy intensity, renewables, forestry cover) for a variety of other reasons: energy security, pollution reduction, development of China’s fledgling green-tech industries, and so on.  This should give some comfort to those who believe that China is not serious about these targets. 

Institutional Tools for Meeting China’s Targets

By now, you are no doubt familiar with China’s target to reduce its energy intensity (energy use per unit of GDP) by 20% in the 2006-2010 11th Five-Year Plan Period.  One of the key tools for driving compliance with this target has been the use of the so-called target responsibility system – essentially, bureaucratic job evaluations.  The promotion and job prospects for governors and mayors around the country turn on how well they perform against very detailed criteria.  Lü Xuedu put it more bluntly: “If you don’t do a good job on these, you might be fired.”  I’ve talked about this in past blogs, but I wanted to give a bit more detail here to show how this works.

Traditionally, the criteria for official evaluations have been tied mainly to economic development and other targets.  But in recent years, the government has begun to incorporate environmental and energy targets into this evaluation system.  In November 2007, the government issued a set of detailed criteria for measuring government officials on how well they meet the energy intensity target.  Here is an English translation of the criteria (see Chinese original):

evaluation criteria

The criteria list is impressive in its detail.  The criteria measure not only how well officials perform against targets in the aggregate, but give points for officials to meet specific smaller targets that help to achieve the larger goal.  For example, officials can earn 8 points (out of 100) for “completing the year’s goal of eliminating retrograde production capacity.”  This has been a policy goal that is generally considered to have good implementation.  To give you a sense of what this looks like, here are a few photos:





Studies have shown that environmental evaluation criteria have been effective in moving government officials’ behavior.  For example, in Guangdong Province, use of environmental evaluation criteria led mayors to invest more aggressively in waste water treatment plants and other environmental facilities, and resulted in agencies working together more closely on enforcement actions.

As Lü Xuedu said, China has put in systems to make sure it meets its targets.  These systems are particularly relevant to the talks in Copenhagen these two weeks because Minister Xie Zhenhua has explicitly stated (in announcing China’s carbon intensity target) that it will use these administrative mechanisms to achieve its announced carbon intensity target. 

How this will translate into the international climate agreement remains to be seen.  What is clear is that China has done a great deal, much of which the rest of the world is unaware, to improve implementation of climate-related targets.  This performance should help to engender trust among the other nations of the world.  It’s a reason China may be willing to lead the developing countries by example through greater transparency and disclosure of its actions and emissions.  

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Steven Earl SalmonyDec 10 2009 07:43 AM

Perhaps now is a good time to breathe deeply and celebrate.

President Barack Obama is in Norway to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. This is a moment for rejoicing and listening to the words of a great person. He is deserving of a Nobel Prize because he is a beacon of light and hope in an awakening world that has suffered grievously through the past 8 long, dark years with leadership known mostly for its disasterous decisonmaking, disinformation, delay, denial, duplicity and dunderheadedness.

Steven Earl Salmony
AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population, established 2001

Steve RobertsDec 10 2009 12:33 PM

China came to the table and should be applauded for how seriously they are taking the issue, and how well they are contributing to the solutions. I very much agree with the structural nudges through policy and performance targets, but those are easier to accomplish in a command-and-control economy. I hope other types of economies find ways to nudge in the right direction, too. The group called The Green Detectives ( has done a good job of clarifying some of the possible solutions in layman's terms. Worth checking out.

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