Page last updated: 30th November 2012



China pledged to reduce CO2 emissions per unit of GDP by 40-45% compared to the 2005 level by 2020. According to the current trends, currently implemented policies will be close to sufficient to meeting its pledge in 2020.

Pledge description

China’s pledge consists of three elements:

We used information from China’s second national communication to quantify this pledge. China presents emission scenarios for business as usual (excluding all policies implemented after 2005), for current policies, and for enhanced policies. Since the enhanced policies scenario leads to a 45% reduction of CO2 emission intensity, we interpret it as the “pledge scenario”. In that scenario combustion related CO2 emissions are 9.9 GtCO2e in 2020 (The People’s Republic of China, 2012). Including non-energy emissions this translates to an emissions level of 14.3 GtCO2e according to our assessment. This value is higher than earlier business as usual scenarios from previous years, which were based on international data sources.

The pledge was rated inadequate due to the large uncertainties associated with its quantification. In general, the resulting emission level of the intensity pledge depends critically on future GDP growth.  The presented BAU scenario is significantly higher than other estimates in the literature and cannot be verified.  

Current trend description

With currently implemented policies, China will reach emission levels between 14.7 and 16.1 GtCO2e in 2020. Although the 2020 trend is already close to the pledge, it is substantially above current emission levels and higher than previously projected emission levels in the CAT. This change is partly due to a change in data sources and definition of categories, but also the high economic growth rates in the last years, which had not been considered before.

China has a range of implemented policies in most sectors. Most significant is the commitment to a strong increase of renewable energy. Since the Medium and Long Term Development Plan for Renewable Energy from 2007, China has increased its capacity plans multiple times. In the latest update of the 12th Five Year Plan, China decided to target 700 GW of renewable energy capacity in 2020. Bloomberg New Energy Finance expects an increase of RE capacity of 809 GW between 2010 and 2030 (Bloomberg New Energy Finance, 2013), which would add up to more than 1100 GW in 2030.

Furthermore, policies to reduce energy consumption exist to support the energy intensity targets in the Five Year Plan. In the industrial sector, the TOP 1000 enterprises programme has proven effective in the past and has now been extended to 10 000 installations. There is also an increasing number of efficiency standards for appliances, buildings and cars. However, these standards partially lack sufficient implementation and supportive policies (Fekete et al., 2013).

In September 2013, China published the Air Pollution Control Action Plan (Government of China, 2013), which besides other measures, bans construction of new coal-fired power plants in various coastal provinces in order to decrease air pollution there. At the moment, little background information is available on what this means for overall coal consumption. A first analysis estimates that the effect on emissions will be small, as the regions with major extension plans for coal-fired power plants are not touched by the regulation (Ailun Yang and Ryna Yiyun, 2013). Eventually, the impact on emissions will be dependent on the energy source used to replace the planned plants affected by the regulation.

Date of pledge
January 2010



As China only makes available two inventory years which do not have the same scope and are thus not directly comparable, we use a combination of international data sources for energy related emissions (IEA, 2012) and non-energy emissions (EDGAR 4.2), and inventory data for LULUCF to determine historic emissions until 2010.

Current trends

For projections, we use the scenarios from the 2nd National Communication for energy related CO2 emissions, growth rates from US EPA’s anthropogenic GHG emissions projections for non-CO2 gases applied to the historic data, and extrapolate historic trends of non-energy CO2 emissions. For LULUCF, we assume that emission sinks will become slightly smaller (by 20% in comparison to 2005) and that emissions from forest and grass land conversion will remain stable.

In an alternative scenario, we use projections from the World Energy Outlook 2012 for energy related CO2 emissions. This is the lower limit of the range shown in the graph.


Bloomberg New Energy Finance (2013). The future of  China's power sector. From centralised and coal powered to distributed and renewable? (14 October, 2013).

Fekete, H., F. Mersmann, and M. Vieweg (2013) Climate change mitigation activities in emerging economies: From potential to actions. Federal Environment Agency (Umweltbundesamt)

IEA (2012): World Energy Outlook 2012. International Energy Agency. Paris.

The People’s Republic of China (2012). Second National Communication on Climate Change of The People’s Republic of China. (14 November, 2012).

The People’s Republic of China (2011). China's 12th Five Year Plan (Twelfth Five-Year Guideline, 2011–2015)

The People’s Republic of China (2010). China's pledge to the Copenhagen Accord. Compiled in: Compilation of information on nationally appropriate mitigation actions to be implemented by Parties not included in Annex I to the Convention, UNFCCC (2011)

The People’s Republic of China (2009). Government announcement

US EPA (2012). Global Mitigation of Non-CO2 Greenhouse Gases, Washington, D.C., USA.