On 28 Jan 2014, China announced its “autonomous domestic mitigation action” in response to the Copenhagen Accord. It’s announcement letter did not mention the accord, and it did not claim that the mitigation action was in anyway a response to international negotiations or even that its intention was to address climate change.
The previous day a Reuters story explained:
More than 30 years of breakneck economic growth have had an appalling affect on China’s environment, with rivers blackened and blankets of smog smothering many cities.
The government has pledged to do more to tackle pollution — a cause of violent protests in some parts of China — by closing factories and mines and investing in green technology, but admits it faces a hard and long fight.
It would seem that China simply announced what it intended to do anyway in response to its domestic environmental problems. But let us examine its primary target to see if there is any evidence of a new climate policy response after the 2009 Copenhagen climate conference.
China committed to cutting its carbon intensity by 40 to 45 percent between 2005 and 2020. So 40% would be enough to keep its commitment. But “intensity” equals emissions divided by GDP, so intensity is reduced by increasing GDP, and China plans to increase that dramatically. But what was expected before China announced its mitigation action?
In May 2009, the U.S. Dept. of Energy estimated that China would reduce its emissions intensity by 45 percent. China has pledged to do almost, but not quite, as well as what the US DOE expected them to do anyway.
And how surprising is 45 percent intensity drop? As the numbers below show, during the previous 15 years, when China was making very little effort, it actually did reduce emissions intensity by 44.42 percent. So China has simply announced that it would do the same as it did before it had any climate policy and the same as it was expected to do a year before it announced its mitigation actions, which it does not refer to as a climate policy.
Of course this intensity game is nothing new. Then President Bush used it on Valentines day 2001, when he promised to cut U.S. emissions intensity between 2000 and 2010 by 18 percent. That was two percent more than what we did in the previous 10 years without trying.
The spreadsheet below shows the data from DOE’s International Energy Outlook published eight months before China’s announced policy.