In what format and under what timeframe would China take on climate commitments? A roadmap to 2050

  • Zhongxiang ZhangEmail author
Original Paper


Balancing China’s energy needs to fuel its rapid economic growth with the resulting potential impacts of climate change presents an enormous climate policy dilemma, not simply for China but for the entire world. This is the major reason why the role of China is an issue of perennial concerns at international climate change negotiations. In response to these concerns and to put China in a positive position, this paper maps out a realistic roadmap for China’s specific climate commitments toward 2050. Taking many factors into consideration, the paper argues that China needs to take on absolute emissions caps around 2030. However, it is hard to imagine how China could apply the brakes so sharply as to switch from rapid emissions growth to immediate emissions cuts, without passing through several intermediate phases. To that end, the paper envisions that China needs the following three transitional periods of increasing climate obligations before taking on absolute emissions caps that will lead to the global convergence of per capita emissions by 2050: First, further credible energy conservation commitments starting in 2013 and aimed at cutting China’s carbon intensity by 46–50% by 2020; second, voluntary “no lose” emission targets starting in 2018; and third, binding carbon intensity targets as its international commitment starting in 2023. Overall, this proposal is a balanced reflection of respecting China’s rights to grow and recognizing China’s growing responsibility for increasing greenhouse gas emissions as China is on its way to becoming the world’s largest economy.


Carbon intensity target Binding emissions caps Post-Copenhagen climate negotiations China United States India 



Carbon capture and storage


Clean development mechanism


Emissions allowance requirements


European Union


Gross domestic product


Parts per million



The May 2009 version of this paper has benefited from comments from two anonymous referees and the editor. The paper was presented at the Second International Wuppertal Colloquium on Sustainable Growth, Resource Productivity and Sustainable Industrial Policy, Wuppertal, Germany, 10–12 September 2009; the International Workshop on Reconciling Domestic Energy Needs and Global Climate Policy: Challenges and Opportunities for China and India, Venice, 15 March 2010; and the International Symposium on Climate Change and National Security: Securing Better Forecasts, University of California at San Diego, 21–23 June 2010. 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 Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Research ProgramEast-West CenterHonoluluUSA
  2. 2.Center for Energy Economics and Strategy StudiesFudan UniversityShanghaiChina
  3. 3.Institute of Policy and Management Chinese Academy of Sciences BeijingChina

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