China needs CO2 cap to meet climate pledges

China needs to impose a nationwide carbon cap if it is to fulfill a pledge made last year to bring emissions to a peak by around 2030.

Wang Yi, a member of the China Academy of Sciences and adviser to China’s climate negotiation team, said the country should include an absolute CO2 cap of around 10 billion tonnes for 2020 in its five-year plan covering the 2016-2020 period.

Wang’s proposal is based on academic studies into how China can meet a promise to bring emissions to a peak by around 2030, made in a joint statement with the United States last November.

“The studies show that it is very likely that energy-related CO2 emissions will peak around 2030 at 11-12 billion tonnes, and will be in the range of 9.5-10.5 billion tonnes by 2020,” Wang wrote.

Last week, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang vowed to put a ceiling on coal use and to cut carbon intensity – the amount of CO2 emissions per unit of growth – by at least 3.1 percent this year. “We will actively respond to climate change and expand the trials for trading carbon emissions rights,” the premier said.

China has established seven regional carbon trading exchanges and aims to create a nationwide scheme by 2016. A mandatory cap on emissions will help determine how big the national market will be.

Anything less than a tough and legally enforceable cap is likely to lead to a permit oversupply. Regulators are already wary of repeating mistakes made by Europe’s Emissions Trading Scheme, now in the doldrums as a result of a slowdown that has created a 2.1 billion tonne carbon credit surplus.