China’s Copenhagen pledges, along with fifty four other nations, have recently been announced. China has pledged to reduce its carbon dioxide emission per unit of GDP by 40-45% by 2020 compared to 2005 levels, raise the level of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption to 15% and increase forest coverage by 40 million hectares with a rise in forest stock volume of 1.3 billion cubic metres by 2020 from 2005 levels.
How significant are these pledges? All of them are as China promised before Copenhagen got under way and as such come as no surprise. As has been much discussed elsewhere, these pledges do not amount to any reduction in carbon emissions, but rather a deceleration of rising emissions. The actual level of emissions in 2020 is therefore very difficult for anyone to predict, with some estimates suggesting that at current growth trends China could still see a doubling of emissions by 2020 with the targets. It is also interesting to note that of those countries that have made some sort of pledge, only China and India have specified emissions per unit. All others have offered some form of real cut, albeit often conditional, if they have made an offer.
A more worrying issue is that verifying these targets will be a serious problem. China has already stated that it has no intention of allowing international verification with the exception of projects that are funded with help from abroad. Without any verification it is difficult to take even these pledges seriously. Chinese statistics are notoriously poor with regular falsification from local level governments. It would therefore come as no surprise to find in the coming years that emission statistics are being falsely lowered by the local and national governments in order to meet these targets.
Moreover, in its emission pledge China reiterates the point that these pledges are on an entirely voluntary basis. This is of course true for all pledges made, but its reiteration serves to drive home how little has actually been accomplished at Copenhagen in terms of concrete emissions targets. Taking all of this into account, it seems doubtful that China will be meeting even these targets in 2020.