Beijing: Under intense pressure to reduce its carbon emissions, China, the world`s biggest emitter of green house gases, has for the first time signaled that it may agree to a quantified target after 2020.
"China is likely to agree to a quantified target to limit its greenhouse gas emissions after 2020," Xu Huaqing, a researcher from the Energy Research Institute affiliated with the National Development and Reform Commission, the government body that oversees climate change issues in China said.
But this depends on the outcome of climate change negotiations at Durban conference and China`s level of development by that time, he told state-run China Daily.
This is the first time that China, which is part of the BASIC, (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) has mentioned a possible timetable regarding its greenhouse gas emissions.
In his comments Xu said China may "agree" which is seen by analysts here as laying ground for a shift in Beijing`s firm stand against binding cuts so far.
BASIC group in its preparatory meeting here last month before the the on going Durban Climate Conference has opposed any binding cuts on the developing countries, while insisting on the second commitment period of Kyoto Protocol to enable the developed countries to implement their commitments.
Analysts say if China agrees to any binding commitments, pressure would be piled up on India too do the same as it is aligned closely with Beijing in its campaign to avoid binding cuts on developing countries.
China had previously pledged to cut carbon emissions per unit of economic growth by 40 to 45 per cent by 2020 from 2005 levels.
Xu said China would need to spend over one billion yuan (USD 157 million) on energy conservation and developing renewable energy by 2020 to honour its commitment to reduce carbon intensity.
China`s carbon emissions are still set to grow at a rapid pace in the coming years, as the country`s coal-based energy structure is unlikely to change in the short term, and the country`s industrialisation and urbanisation continue, Xu said.
"The most optimistic studies I`ve seen say that China`s carbon emissions will peak around 2030. While the majority estimate the peak will come between 2035 and 2045", he said.
"So it is more reasonable for China to set a post-2020 target to restrict its carbon emissions, rather than a reduction goal," he said and argued the Chinese government
is already considering controlling total energy consumption in the 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015).
"The goal is to restrict total energy consumption at around 4 to 4. 2 billion tons of coal equivalent by 2015," said Xu.
China consumed 3.2 billion tons of standard coal in 2010, about 46 per cent of the global total.
The National Energy Bureau is calculating detailed targets for different regions based on their own development levels, according to Xu.
Non-fossil fuels will be exempted from the cap as a policy incentive to encourage the use of renewable energy.
And the bureau is also mulling a plan to set regional electricity consumption caps, he said.
"This is because electricity consumption is relatively easy to monitor report and verify, and it is also very closely linked with coal consumption," he said.