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Environmental Economics and Policy Studies

, Volume 13, Issue 3, pp 219–235 | Cite as

Assessing China’s carbon intensity pledge for 2020: stringency and credibility issues and their implications

  • ZhongXiang ZhangEmail author
Research Article

Abstract

Just prior to the Copenhagen Climate Change Summit, China pledged to cut its carbon intensity by 40–45% by 2020 relative to its 2005 levels. This raises the issue of whether such a pledge is ambitious or just represents business as usual. To put China’s climate pledge into perspective, this paper examines whether this pledge is as challenging as the energy-saving goals set in the 11th 5-year economic blueprint, to what extent it drives China’s emissions below its projected baseline levels, whether China will fulfill its part of a coordinated global commitment to stabilize the concentration of greenhouse gas emissions at the desirable level, and whether it is conservative and there is room for further increase. Our balanced analysis of China’s climate pledge challenges the views of both some Western scholars and the Chinese government regarding its ambition. Given that China’s pledge is in the form of carbon intensity, the paper shows that GDP figures are even more crucial to the impacts on the energy or carbon intensity than are energy consumption and emissions data. Finally, the paper emphasizes that China’s proposed carbon intensity target not only needs to be seen as ambitious, but more importantly it needs to be credible, and suggests that international climate change negotiations need to focus on 2030 as the targeted date to cap the greenhouse gas emissions of the world’s two largest emitters in a legally binding global agreement.

Keywords

Carbon intensity Post-Copenhagen climate change negotiations Climate commitments China 

JEL Classification

Q42 Q43 Q48 Q52 Q53 Q54 Q58 

Notes

Acknowledgments

This paper is built on the invited luncheon speech on Climate Change Policies in the Developing World and the panel discussion on From Architectures to Climate Change Governance at the International Workshop on Climate Change Polices, Presidency of Complutense University, Madrid, Spain, 18–19 February 2010, and was presented at China Update 2010: The Next 20 Years of Reform and Development, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia, 14 July 2010, and the Third International Wuppertal Colloquium on Sustainable Growth and Resource Productivity: Harnessing Industry and Policy Towards Eco-Innovation, Brussels, Belgium, 4–6 September 2010. It has benefited from helpful comments from three anonymous referees. That said, the views expressed here are those of the author. The author bears sole responsibility for any errors and omissions that may remain.

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Copyright information

© Springer 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Research Program East-West CenterHonoluluUSA
  2. 2.Center for Energy Economics and Strategy Studies, Fudan UniversityShanghaiChina
  3. 3.Institute of Policy and Management, Chinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina
  4. 4.China Centre for Urban and Regional Development Research, Peking UniversityBeijingChina

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