Wednesday, June 06, 2007

China, the G8 and emissions intensity

Earlier, this week China announced a vague climate change policy that includes no GHG emissions targets. While hardly a surprise, the refusal to consider any emissions targets, or even any aspirational emissions goals pretty much destroyed whatever little chance there was that UK, Germany, Japan and the G8 countries would oppose the US effort to block the use of hard emissions targets.

China may be one place where the intensity-based metrics make some sense. With low per capita emissions and a smaller historical contribution to emissions, forcing China to drastically restrict economic development would hardly be a globally equitable solution to climate change.

As I discussed a couple weeks ago, China’s GHG emissions intensity rose in the past decade. China is at the stage of development where “carbon” generation is outpacing economic development. In terms of carbon efficiency, you can imagine China being around where the West was back in 1920s, before the global peak in emissions intensity (see the global intensity graph)

So at least new Chinese policy calls for a 20% decrease in energy intensity, the energy consumption per $ of GDP. Whether that policy has any teeth, or whether the emissions data is trustworthy, who knows? But it is a start.

The Canadian government proposal that G8 countries adopt intensity-based targets is ridiculous for Western nations. Europe, Japan, Australia and North America passed their peaks in emissions intensity, or lows in carbon efficiency, decades ago. For those countries, targets have to be based on the actual emissions.

For China and other rapidly developing nations, however, setting initial targets based initially on the “carbon” efficiency or intensity of the economy may be the only sensible solution to the global policy stalemate. Perhaps the only global plan that is equitable is one in which: i) the U.S., Europe, Canada and other Annex 1 nations accept hard caps on their own emissions, and ii) China and other developing nations use intensity-based targets until the per-capita emissions reach some threshold, beyond which hard emissions caps should be applied.

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