Wind power plants in China

China has pledged a 65 per cent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions intensity by 2030 in preparation of a new climate agreement to be signed in Paris in December, with a goal of peaking emissions by 2030.

The cut to emissions intensity by 2030 based on 2005 levels represents a major commitment from the country, and according to experts eclipses the decarbonisation rates of the US and Europe. China has also committed to 20 per cent clean energy by 2030 – a commitment also made by the US and Brazil.

Director of the Centre for Climate Economics and Policy at the Australian National University’s Crawford School of Public Policy Frank Jotzo said China’s commitment represented an annual decarbonisation rate of four per cent a year til 2030.

“This rate has little precedent and exceeds decarbonisation rates in the United States and Europe,” Mr Jotzo said.

“China is clearly serious about this, and its actions are driven by self-interest: industrial modernisation is necessary to reach the next stage of development, cutting coal consumption helps with air pollution, relying less on fossil fuels improves the security of energy supply, and pushing advanced energy technologies could give China an edge in global markets.”

WWF Global Climate and Energy Initiative leader Samantha Smith said China had made commitments “beyond its responsibility as a developing country”.

“This is the first major developing country emitter to set a total emissions peak target,” she said. “In doing so, China has committed to both global climate security and to a transformational energy transition at home.”

Greenpeace China climate analyst Li Shuo said the news was impressive as climate change had typically been a low priority for the country.

“China has only ever been on defence when it comes to climate change, but today’s announcement is the first step for a more active role,” he said. “For success in Paris, however, all players – including China and the EU – need to up their game.”

Mr Jotzo said the question of what national target Australia should offer was increasingly one of avoiding too much embarrassment.

“Anything less than the US emissions target will be difficult to justify internationally, given Australia’s higher emissions levels and good opportunities for cuts,” he said.

New analysis by ClimateWorks suggests that Australia could reduce its carbon emissions by 50 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030, reaching net zero by 2050, while still growing the economy.

ClimateWorks chief executive Anna Skarbek said there were five key areas with carbon abatement potential around electricity, agriculture and forestry, transport, industry and buildings.

“Meeting a 50 per cent reduction target by 2030 is achievable entirely within Australia and without the need to buy carbon permits overseas,” she said.

“If we are to match the United States emissions reduction target in 2025, Australia would need to be doing over 85 per cent of these abatement actions.”