- The Washington Times - Friday, November 27, 2009

BEIJING | China promised Thursday to slow - but not reduce - its carbon emissions, in a major move by the world’s largest emitter, whose cooperation is crucial to any deal as a global climate summit approaches.

Beijing’s voluntary pledge comes a day after President Obama promised that the United States would lay out plans at the summit to substantially cut its own greenhouse gas emissions. Together, the announcements are building momentum for next month’s meeting in Copenhagen.

But environmental experts warned that China’s plan does not commit it to reducing emissions - and that they will in fact continue to increase, though at a slower rate.

With the United States now offering specifics - reducing carbon dioxide emissions by about 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020 - China seemed to follow its lead.

China pledged Thursday to cut “carbon intensity,” a measure of carbon dioxide emissions per unit of gross domestic product, by 40 percent to 45 percent by 2020, compared with levels in 2005. Beijing also said Prime Minister Wen Jiabao would take part in the Copenhagen meeting.

“There is no question their carbon emissions would continue to grow under this scenario,” said Charlie McElwee, an international environmental and energy lawyer based in Shanghai. “This isn’t by any means an agreement by China to either cap, much less reduce, the amount of its carbon emissions. It’s only slowing down the rate at which emissions are growing.”

If China did nothing and its economy doubles in size as expected in coming years, its emissions would likely double as well. Thursday’s pledge means emissions would only increase by 50 percent in such a scenario.

Environmental groups and leaders largely welcomed China’s move.

“Before Copenhagen, we desperately need this good news,” said Yu Jie, head of policy and research programs for the Climate Group China, a nongovernmental group. She described China’s 45 percent target as “quite aggressive.”

European Union officials said the plans from the U.S. and China, which together emit about 40 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases, were essential to progress at the summit but indicated that they still hoped for more.

“We will continue to urge the U.S., China and all our other partners in this negotiation to go to the outer limits of what is possible,” according to a statement from Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said.

The announcements over the past two days add significant weight toward achieving a global agreement, though the Dec. 7-18 conference is unlikely to produce a binding deal as hoped. Leaders now think delegates in Copenhagen will produce at best an outline for an agreement to be considered late next year instead.

But Yvo de Boer, the United Nations climate chief, said the pledges by China and the U.S. pave the way for a deal.

“The U.S. commitment to specific, midterm emission cut targets and China’s commitment to specific action on energy efficiency can unlock two of the last doors to a comprehensive agreement,” he said.

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