September 19, 2014 / 5:09 AM / 5 years ago

China cautious on fresh commitments ahead of climate change summit

BEIJING, Sept 19 (Reuters) - China’s top climate change official on Friday stopped short of signalling new commitments to fighting climate change ahead of next week’s U.N. climate summit, saying China would explain “some positive actions” it will take after 2020.

More than 120 heads of state, including U.S. President Barack Obama, will attend the Sept. 23 summit in New York, although leaders of big polluters like Australia, Canada, China, Germany and India will be absent.

The event will be arranged by U.N. General-Secretary Ban Ki-moon in an attempt to spark progress in difficult climate negotiations meant to end with a new global treaty on global warming in Paris in December 2015.

The Chinese delegation, led by Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli, will “announce China’s position on a new agreement”, Xie Zhenhua, the vice director of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), told reporters at a press briefing in Beijing.

China will outline some positive action it will take to control greenhouse gas emissions after 2020 and provide some thoughts on how and when the country’s carbon emissions might peak, he added, but made no mention of potential new targets on policies.

China emits nearly 30 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, and its per capita emissions have surpassed some European countries after decades of rapid economic growth with little or no environmental regulations.

Beijing argues that the main responsibility to cut emissions lies with Western countries that have released greenhouse gases into the atmosphere since industrialisation began 160 years ago, although it is increasingly taking steps to slow down its carbon growth.

A climate change action plan launched by Xie on Friday said the government aims to cap 2020 emissions from “high carbon sectors” like cement and steel at 2011-2015 levels.

Steel output is expected to peak by 2020, according to industry sources, but a commitment to cap emissions in some major sectors would be a significant step forward for China’s domestic climate policy.

Asked whether China will set an economy-wide absolute cap on CO2 emissions, Xie said “we are indeed planning for it”, but would not commit to a date.

The senior official admitted that coal consumption would continue to rise in China for many years, although China is striving to decouple coal and GDP growth, which would allow its economy to grow faster than fossil fuel use.

But the action plan reconfirmed ambitions to make sure there is “negative growth” in coal use in key regions such as the Beijing-Hebei-Tianjin area in northern China, and the Yangtze and Pearl river deltas. (Additional reporting by Kathy Chen in BEIJING; Editing by Ryan Woo)

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