China plans to cut its emissions by 2020

An arrow on a traffic road sign is illuminated as vehicles travel along the central east-west axis of Chang'An Avenue in Beijing on a smoggy day

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Tess Vigeland: Wall Street and Washington may be in a post-prandial stupor today, but it's not a holiday in China. And Beijing is making news ahead of the big climate summit in Copenhagen, Denmark, a week from Monday. Today the Chinese government announced it will cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. Well, cut the growth of its greenhouse gas emissions, anyway. According to the Chinese state news agency, the pledge is to reduce what's called "carbon intensity." Marketplace's Jeremy Hobson cuts through the jargon for us.


Jeremy Hobson: Carbon intensity is the amount of carbon emitted per unit of growth in Gross Domestic Product. In other words, China will still be able to grow its economy -- and emissions will still go up -- even as it meets its new carbon targets. Emissions just won't increase as fast as they do now.

Dan Esty: I think it's for real, but it's not everything that's needed.

Dan Esty directs the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy:

Esty: The real goal, of course, is hard targets, that are in place without regard to how much economic growth there is, and the United States ultimately needs to do the same. But to have both the United States and China, the two biggest emitters of greenhouse gasses, now committed to action on climate change is a dramatic step forward and should be celebrated.

The Chinese commitment comes just a day after President Obama announced he'll go to Copenhagen. He pledged the U.S. will cut its greenhouse gas emissions by about 17 percent of 2005 levels over the next decade.

Mark Nicholls is editor at Environmental Finance Magazine in London. He says the real impact of the Chinese announcement is that it may lead to a deal in Copenhagen.

Mark Nicholls: It's not a huge concession by the Chinese -- they should be able to meet these targets quite comfortably. But it will help to unblock the negotiations and move things forward.

That's something Nicholls says could provide an economic benefit to China, which is hoping to become a global leader in developing low carbon technologies. Still, Nicholls says whatever deal does emerge from the climate summit won't be anything close to what many scientists were hoping for.

I'm Jeremy Hobson for Marketplace.

About the author

Jeremy Hobson is host of Marketplace Morning Report, where he looks at business news from a global perspective to prepare listeners for the day ahead.

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