World – US announces emission cuts, China follows suit
BEIJING/NEW DELHI: China on Thurday declared that it would reduce the carbon intensity of its economy by 40-45% below 2005 levels by 2020. This
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significant manoeuvre is bound to step up pressure on India and other emerging economies to relax their stand at the forthcoming climate-change talks in Copenhagen.
China made it clear that the cut in carbon intensity would be purely voluntary. But coming a day after US indicated that it would offer a fixed target for greenhouse gas reductions, it is sure to have repercussions for cliamte change negotiations, giving a hand to those who argue that India needs to do more.
There is a fear that India might come under pressure from a possible US-China duet and runs the risk of getting isolated at the Copenhagen talks, beginning on December 7.
Such fears had already been expressed by a section in the government which pressed for flexibility in India’s negotiating stance.
Earlier in the month, Brazil had made a conditional offer to reduce its emissions through forestry if it was provided international funding to control deforestation of the Amazonian forests. The move was interpreted by some as a sell-out to the industrialised countries.
The Chinese move comes a day after the US administration, that held out for long, announced that it would offer a target of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions “in the range of” 17% by 2020 as compared to 2005 levels.
When converted to benchmarks set under Kyoto Protocol, this works out to 4% reduction below 1990 levels – almost seven times less than what the EU has offered and less than 1/10th of what the UN IPCC requires industrialised countries to do to check catastrophic climate change. But this has been showcased as a concession and will be used as a bargaining chip at Copenhagen and beyond.
The developed countries have said that their offers are contingent on emerging economies taking on commitments as well as availability of cheap carbon offsets to limit the economic impact of emission reductions.
India, China and other emerging economies have not been asked by the rich countries to undertake absolute emission reduction cuts. But this is only a partial respite. There have been growing pressure from the industrialized countries that India and key developing countries also undertake `substantial action’.
Hours before his departure for China, environment minister Jairam Ramesh went into a huddle with senior officials to craft India’s response to Beijing’s move. Sources said that Jairam’s meetings with the Chinese on November 27 and 28 may offer some clarity on how India plans to deal with the US-China pincer.
The challenge for India will now be how to escape being seen as the hurdle. One senior official said: “These are not absolute reductions, please note, and they are purely voluntary, China has not offered them as a commitment towards an international compact. This is along the lines that China had informed us of. But they leave a positive impression internationally.”
In fact, the Chinese are aiming to earn goodwill without doing much.The industrialized countries are obliged under the existing UN treaty to reduce their emissions by absolute levels below a fixed benchmarked year. China, in comparison has offered a purely voluntary reduction in its carbon intensity – the amount of carbon dioxide emissions emitted for every dollar of GDP it generates. The carbon intensity target also provides enough leverage for `creative accounting’ in measuring success of targets.
Another expert within the government also pointed out that the Chinese government had already reported reduction in energy intensity and had recently announced 3.35% year-on-year reduction for the first half of 2009. “If one was to go by Chinese figures all they are saying is they shall continue to undertake only those actions to reduce energy consumption they have already committed to. This is business as usual for China after it’s announced its ambitious renewable energy and afforestation targets.”
But other key government officers also pointed out that the fine print of the Chinese offer was bound to get a bit lost in the international political rhetoric at the moment. “While China is not deviating from the G77 position, the noise for India to take action from outside India, and even within some sections of the government could increase,” an official close to the developments told TOI.
Xie Zhenhua, deputy head of the powerful National Development and Reform Commission of China, announced the Chinese move in Beijing on Thursday and said, “So far we have not seen concrete actions and substantive commitments by the developed countries. As we’ve made this commitment, well, Chinese people stick to their word.”
But it is not clear if Beijing was prepared to allow the outside world to closely examine its implementation of its environmental program. Both India and China had earlier opposed any outside interference on this issue.
China has proposed that developed nations contribute 1 per cent of gross domestic product to subsidize efforts by poorer nations to cut carbon-dioxide emissions. That translates to more than $140 billion for the US alone. Of course, Washington is far from accepting it.
“Appropriate handling of the climate change issue is of vital interest to China’s social and economic development and people’s fundamental interests, as well as the welfare of all the people in the world and the world’s long-term development,” the Chinese State Council said in the statement.
That both President Obama of the US and his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao would skip the head of the states meeting scheduled at Copenhagen on December 18 is seen as signalling their intent not to raise expectations of any big concessions from the two leading polluters attending the talks.
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