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Coming Global Warming Limits in China…some news with hints

Jake Schmidt

Posted June 8, 2009 in Greening China, Solving Global Warming

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News coming out of China provides some hints that they might adopt a domestic limit to reduce their global warming.  As China Daily is reporting:

" China will put in place carbon dioxide emissions targets for its economic and social development programs, the central government has promised.

It also signals that China may be considering national goals for carbon dioxide levels when it maps its 12th five-year national development plan (2011-15)."

The central government announced the plan at the State Council meeting that was chaired by Premier Wen Jiabao.  The State Council is the highest executive and administrative body in China and is equivalent to China's cabinet.  So this announcement was made at a very high-level within the Chinese government.

Inclusion in the "5-year" plan would be significant as this is the governments overarching strategy.  Achieving the objectives of this plan becomes the main focus of the central government as achieving them often becomes a metric for determining whether or not government officials move up in the ranks.  And, inclusion of such a goal in the 5-year plan drives the implementation of Chinese government policies, regulations, programs, etc. over the course of the 5-years.  This has occurred as a result of the inclusion of an energy-intensity target in China's current 5-year plan -- to cut energy intensity by 20% between 2005 and 2010 -- as the government has implemented a number of policies and regulations to achieve it.

If you haven't noticed, getting an agreement with China on global warming pollution is at the top of the US international global warming agenda.  Key members of Congress were just in China and now some of the Obama Administration's key policymakers on global warming are headed to China -- including senior global warming officials from the Department of State, Department of Energy, Environmental Protection Agency, Treasury Department, and the President's Science Advisor.

So this announcement comes at a critical time as it provides a potential opening to firm up a bilateral agreement on global warming between the US and China.  This has been in the works since President Obama was elected as signaled by Secretary Clinton when she went to China in February.  As Special Climate Envoy Todd Stern recently said:

"Certainly no deal will be possible if we don't find a way forward with China."

NRDC made a series of recommendations on actions that the US and China should do together, including address the key sticking points to reaching a meaningful agreement in Copenhagen in December 2009.  While the international global warming negotiations are focused on starting to flesh out the "text" of the agreement (as I discussed in Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3), getting agreement between the US and China has become an even a stronger "key to success" in getting a strong international agreement to address climate.  The text can't have "life" without these two countries resolving some differences.

High on the agenda of this US delegation headed to China needs to be three key things to lay the groundwork for agreement with China on global warming.  The US and China need to get agreement on the:

  1. Actions that will be taken to reduce their global warming pollution. Key to this in the US will be passing a bill on global warming pollution by Congress this year. And this effort has gained some serious momentum with the passage of the House Energy and Commerce Committee bill. The news that China will place limits on emissions provides some hints that China might be moving in the direction of taking an emissions reduction limit (although the exact structure would likely vary from the US approach in the near-term).
  2. Form of that commitment. As I've discussed here, there is an emerging debate with some progress on the "binding" international nature of commitments. The US has proposed binding international commitments for all countries. China has been silent in their formal submission. However, they have been reluctant in the past to internationally binding commitments but have shown a willingness to implement domestically "binding" actions.
  3. Reporting and verification of actions and emissions. The negotiating text contains some proposals for how that would occur, but as I discussed here there is a focus on the commitment of developing countries to "nationally appropriate mitigation actions" with those actions reported to a registry. The US has proposed annual emissions inventories for all countries (including developing countries) as a way to get more real time information. And there is debate around having the developing country actions internationally verified as a part of the agreement -- although a number of developing countries are currently opposed to that. Having China and the US resolve this difference is critical.

Not to hold up to high expectations, but we need one of those "Nixon goes to China" moments when the dynamic between the two countries completely shifts.  We need a moment where the two sides break the stalemate on global warming.  This moment would have a huge ripple effect on the rest of the negotiations to Copenhagen and on our path to secure an international effort to solve global warming.

Both the US and China need such an agreement to materialize soon!  Each for different reasons, but there are strong reasons why both need a mutual agreement on this important issue.  And there are some openings emerging that this isn't just wishful thinking. 

So stay tuned for more news out of China and the US.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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