BEIJING, April 6 China, the world's biggest greenhouse gas emitter, should strive to reach a peak in emissions by 2030, a new government-sponsored study says, warning of the approaching limits to the nation's coal-powered economic ascent.
China's high and rapidly climbing output of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas pollutant from burning coal, oil and gas, has put it in the centre of negotiations for a new world pact to reduce the emissions that fuel global warming.
Those talks resumed in Bangkok this week, and Beijing's negotiators are armed with their government's development plan for 2011-15, which vows to cut by 17 percent the carbon dioxide emitted from fossil fuels for each unit of GDP growth.
But China has repeatedly said it will not accept a more stringent, absolute cap on total emissions, calling it an unfair burden on developing nations that have much lower emissions per person than rich economies. It has also refused to say when its emissions could peak and begin to fall.
The study from the Chinese Academy of Engineering and other recent reports and comments, however, show that some Chinese experts and officials believe the country will have to make bold gains in energy and emissions, or risk pushing resource use and emissions beyond tolerable limits.
"Our country's development path of breakneck energy growth cannot be sustained," the Academy, a government-run body of senior experts and former officials, says in the report.
The four-volume study, "Chinese Energy in the Long- and Medium-Term (2030, 2050)," was written for the central government, though its recommendations have not been endorsed by policy-makers since its recent public release.
The study says China should aim for a peak in greenhouse gas output at around 9 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide per year by about 2030, and it may also soon have to fix a cap on future emissions levels.
"We must consider achieving zero growth in total carbon emissions from about 2030, and must seriously make the necessary technological and economic preparations for achieving an absolute fall in carbon emissions after 2030," says the study, which drew on the help of about 250 Chinese experts.
"In the next phase of (climate) negotiations from 2015, when emissions reduction targets for 2020-2030 are under discussion, our country will have no choice but to consider a specific cap on total emissions. There are massive pressures and expectations on China."
In 2009, China's emissions of carbon dioxide from fossil fuels reached 7.5 billion tonnes, a rise of 9 percent on the previous year, according to estimates from the BP oil group.
The United States emitted 5.9 billion tonnes.
Spelling out even a 2030 peak would be a big step for Beijing, and one it shows no signs of embracing.
Yet even a 2030 emissions peak falls short of what experts have said China needs to do to help the world escape dangerous levels of global warming, bringing worse droughts and floods and rising sea levels -- especially if rich economies fail to cut emissions by much more than they have promised.
The International Energy Agency earlier urged that China aim to hit a peak in carbon dioxide emissions of 8.4 billion tonnes per year by 2020 to help avoid a future rise in average global temperatures of more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 F) above pre-industrial averages, which international negotiations deem the threshold to dangerous global warming.
"If we want to achieve the 2 degrees goal, then China may have to peak somewhat earlier (than 2030)," said Jiang Kejun, an emissions forecasting expert at the Energy Research Institute, a government think-tank in Beijing.
"I personally believe that the latest that China can peak to reach that goal is 2025."
Another new study from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, a government-run institute, forecasts China's net carbon dioxide emissions from all sources, including cement making, could peak in 2035 at about 11.4 billion tonnes of CO2 a year.
China's emissions have more than doubled since 2000, with about 90 percent coming from burning coal, the engineering academy report says. China's energy use was 3.25 billion tonnes of coal equivalent in 2010, up 5.9 percent from a year earlier, official data shows.
If China's economy grows at 9 percent per year, even with energy efficiency gains of 20 percent every five years, it will consume energy equal to 4.6 billion tonnes of standard coal a year by 2020 and possibly 7.0 billion tonnes by 2030, says the engineering academy study. The bulk of that will still come from fossil fuels, especially coal.
"This scenario is far beyond the bounds of what ordinary people imagine," the academy says in the report. "Our country's mode of economic growth will face severe energy and resource constraints." (Editing by Clarence Fernandez)