July 16, 2010 / 2:01 PM / 10 years ago

China's CO2 emissions need to peak by 2020: IEA

BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s emissions of carbon dioxide need to peak by 2020 if the world is to meet its 2050 targets aimed at curbing climate change, the head of the International Energy Agency said on Thursday.

Chimney stacks billow smoke from a coal-burning power station behind construction workers as they lay concrete inside the shell of a new building in Beijing April 8, 2010. REUTERS/David Gray

IEA director Nobuo Tanaka, in Beijing to launch a new report into clean energy technologies, told a briefing that China needed to do more if the global community was to stand any chance of achieving a 50 percent cut in greenhouse gases by 2050 — a target regarded by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as the minimum required to prevent catastrophic warming.

“If we have to reduce emissions by 50 percent globally, what is the least cost to make this happen? China could peak in 2030 or 2035, but the global cost will be much more,” he said.

Chinese academics in attendance responded critically to the remarks, saying the 2020 peak target — together with a projected 36 percent cut in coal consumption by 2050 — would force China to sacrifice economic growth.

“When to peak is a very strong Chinese concern and we understand that — for its economic growth, its energy use should also grow,” Tanaka told Reuters.

“But on the other hand, the requirement of halving CO2 by 2050 is a very strong commitment globally, so we have to reconcile that difference,” he said.

Shortly before global climate change talks in the Danish capital of Copenhagen last year, China pledged to reduce energy intensity — the amount of CO2 produced per unit of GDP — by 40-45 percent by 2020.

However, it has balked at the notion of making mandatory greenhouse cuts as part of any new global accord, saying that industrialized nations have been responsible for the bulk of historical emissions and should bear most of the burden for reducing them — a principle enshrined in the Kyoto Protocol.

Tanaka said while China’s efforts were welcome, it needed to do far more.

“China can do much better than its intensity target of 40-45 percent,” he said.

The IEA report said that the installation of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology could contribute as much as 18 percent to China’s required emission cuts, but progress on the technology has so far been disappointing.

Tanaka said CCS was already mature, but required more government support, including new pricing policies that truly reflect the cost of emitting carbon dioxide.

“The important thing is the incentive and the price of carbon — we think the price to the power sector is about $50-60 per tonne,” he said. “Without CCS in China, the 50 percent reduction is simply impossible.”

Editing by Andrew Marshall

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