Several Chinese cities are spearheading a slowly building movement among the country’s decision makers which could serve as a significant step towards achieving the ambitious national emissions targets for the coming years.  The Chinese government has set a goal of reducing CO2 intensity levels, including energy consumption and industrial activity accounting for all the savings accrued through reductions made in processes and energy consumption, by 40-45%, from 2005 levels, by the year 2020, with an additional intermediate target set out in the 12th 5 year plan of 17% by 2015.

According to recent estimates by the International Energy Agency (IEA) China has managed to reduce this level by 15% since 2005.  However, the IEA’s assessment also revealed that a majority of those reductions came between 2005 and 2008, in the last three years Chinese emissions have remained relatively stable. While the state government has acknowledged the need to make these reductions and taken numerous steps to establish supportive programs and new legislative efforts, reaching the country’s targeted reductions by 2020 will require significant, municipal and local level action regarding many of the policies and approaches proposed by the country’s ministries in coming years.

As such, the recent programs initiated by municipal level governments serve as far more promising signs of actual progress than earlier state policies, such as efforts to close down inefficient factories and power plants and directing ever increasing amounts of money towards energy conservation and emission reductions. Among these recent developments are a series of new measures initiated by the Guangzhou municipal government aimed at halving the number of cars on its streets. The municipal government of Guangzhou, China’s third-largest city, has introduced a system of license plate auctions and lotteries which has been described as among the most restrictive move yet made by a Chinese city in pursuit of these reductions targets. In introducing these restrictive policies, which place long-term environmental issues ahead of short-term economic growth in a strikingly overt fashion, the major metropolis sets a bold example for China’s other heavy polluters and smaller municipalities to follow. Alongside these most recent efforts to cut down on the amount of private vehicles on its streets, the city has also taken an important step towards encouraging mass-commuting in its construction of a subway system.

Among those cities also making strides towards reducing transport-sector emissions, albeit not in as drastic a fashion as Guangzhou, are Nanjing and Hangzhou, which have put in place new policies requiring cleaner gas and diesel vehicles, or Xi’an and Urumqi which have both moved to ban cars built prior to the introduction of stricter emissions legislation in 2005.  These vehicle targeted efforts are joined by those in cities such as Dongguan, Shenzhen, Wuxi, Suzhou, and Beijing, all of which have taken some steps towards shutting down factories causing heavy pollution.

These recent programs are the first true signs of budding potential among China’s cities to make any realistic progress towards reaching the goals set out by a state government which, ultimately, has little effect on the practical measures required to reach those goals.

Source: NY Times article on new legislation

Read more: NY Times article on rising emissions in 2011

Reuters article on rising emissions in 2011

Assessment of China’s targets from Climate Action Tracker

IEA assessment of China’s success until now