If the U.N.’s Copenhagen Climate Summit does only one thing, it will have been to get China to commit to its first firm target to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Unfortunately, the goal that Prime Minister Wen Jiabao will take to Copenhagen doesn’t amount to much — to achieve by 2020 a 40%-50% cut in the 2005 levels of the amount of carbon dioxide emitted for each unit of GDP produced.
Carbon intensity goals are open-ended in as much as the volume of greenhouse gas emissions is a function of growth and energy efficiency. Beijing plans to have more of both, so its total emissions will likely rise. Also the goal is in line with what is already happening in China after a five-year drive to become more energy efficient. It is already almost half way to hitting it.
That is not to say that any target isn’t welcome; it certainly is to the organizers of the flagging Copenhagen conference, who in the past 48 hours have now got the world’s two biggest polluting nations, the U.S. and China, to agree to at least nominal targets. China’s announcement is also a shot in the arm for carbon trading markets, another area where Beijing thinks it can steal a march over Washington.