China's Domestic Climate Commitments Reach a Global Audience in Tianjin

We’re halfway through the Tianjin climate negotiations – the last meeting before countries convene in Cancun at the end of November – and despite mixed results so far, there is hope yet.  Many countries have become pragmatic in their focus on what should be accomplished at Cancun (see here for an update by my colleague Jake Schmidt).  And the public statements of last year – especially on sensitive issues like financing and MRV – have been toned down.

The two tracks of the UNFCCC – the Kyoto Protocol and the Bali Roadmap – were given another year of life after Copenhagen. I have seen how this sobering reality has sunk in: if  Cancun does not result in a meaningful outcome, our best chance at addressing the world’s growing greenhouse gas emissions may be lost.

Getting agreement on the actions that countries will take to reduce their emissions and the ways they will report progress on their actions and emissions reductions, along with other key issues such as operationalizing financing to assist vulnerable developing countries to address climate change, is critical to ensuring we meet our goals of reigning in global warming pollution.

In a promising lead-in to Tianjin, Minister Xie Zhenhua, Vice-Chair of the main policymaking body in China, the National Development and Reform Commission, said last week that China will do its best to “increase the transparency of its actions in terms of tackling climate change and integrating our measures into global efforts.”

In its 11th Five Year Plan, China committed to reduce its sulfur dioxide emissions and chemical oxygen demand by 10 percent below 2005 levels. The central government gave enhanced reporting and verification authority to the Ministry of Environmental Protection, and China met this goal.

China also committed to reduce its energy intensity by around 20 percent over the same period. Through the end of last year, it had reduced energy intensity by more than 15 percent. At the beginning of this year, there was a reversal of the downward trend, and local governments have been frantically looking for ways to cut energy use.

On Monday, Vice-Chairman Xie set the tone for the negotiations by saying that transparency would not be a major obstacle. NDRC official Sun Cuihua also said that China would start the formulation of greenhouse gas inventories in pilot provinces and cities, and build up a GHG inventory database that would be opened to the public.

In the context of domestic commitments, Xie (backed by a resolute Premier Wen Jiabao) said the government is committed to meeting its 20 percent energy intensity target and is dealing with provinces that are under-performing. The NDRC published a list on September 10 of the nine provinces that are in a critical situation (Chinese only). It is also putting a stop to some overzealous localities that have wrongfully cut off power to homes and factories in the last push to meet their targets.

China’s statements, as well as its decision to host this conference, are all positive steps towards opening up to the world the rapid progress China is making in fighting climate change.  China has taken enormous steps during the current 11th Five Year Plan to address its emissions through greater efficiency and renewables. It is in China’s interest to share the details on its actions with the world on a regular basis so that other countries can learn from its substantial efforts to curb its emissions, and so that all countries can have confidence in the collective progress that the international community as a whole is making to address global greenhouse gas emissions.   

This post was co-written with Michael Davidson, NRDC’s China Climate Fellow.