China sets moderate new energy goals for climate change

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FILE - In this Jan. 18, 2020, file photo, a bird flies over the Forbidden City on a day with high levels of air pollution in Beijing. China's Premier Li Keqiang announced that the country would target a reduction of 18% in carbon intensity over the course of the next five years as part of the meeting of the ceremonial legislature which kicked off its annual meeting Friday, March 5, 2021. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein, File)

BEIJING – China, the world's biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, announced generally moderate new energy and climate targets on Friday that give little sign that it will step up its pace in combatting climate change.

On a smoggy day in Beijing, Premier Li Keqiang said the country will reduce carbon emissions per unit of economic output by 18% over the next five years. He was speaking at the annual meeting of the National People’s Congress, China's ceremonial legislature, that began Friday.

The meeting is China's highest-profile political event of the year, where the ruling Communist Party unveils new policies and legislation.

The 18% target is the same as in the previous five-year economic plan. The country uses carbon emissions per unit of economic output, or carbon intensity, instead of absolute emission reduction targets.

“We were very keen to see what the 14th five-year plan would say about how to actually get there, or maybe even more ambitious targets,” said Dimitri de Boer, chief representative of ClientEarth, an environmental law charity. “What we’ve seen of the actual plan is that there is a target on reducing carbon intensity by 2025 but we can’t tell what exactly that means in total emissions.”

In September, President Xi Jinping announced that China would aim for carbon neutrality by 2060, and a peak in emissions by 2030. The carbon neutrality announcement led many to expect there would be sharper targets.

Government planners offered a few more specifics in a summary of the new five-year plan. It sets a target for non-fossil energy to account for 20% of total energy consumption by 2025, which will require further investment in solar and wind energy. It did not mention any ban on new coal projects, which experts say would be a significant step.

China obtains 60% of its power from coal and is the world’s biggest source of climate-changing industrial pollution. As a result, its carbon intensity is higher than any other country.