China, the world's leading emitter of greenhouse gasses, announced Thursday that will set specific targets for reducing emissions at next month's climate change conference in Copenhagen. China will pledge to reduce "carbon intensity," the amount of carbon dioxide emitted per unit of economic growth, by 40 to 45 percent by 2020. The plan is an unusual one compared to most other countries, which pledge to reduce the specific tonnage of greenhouse gas emissions rather than pegging it to economic growth.

  • Could Actually Increase Carbon  The Guardian's Bryony Worthington explains. "[B]ecause economic forecasts already predict that China's economy will become less carbon intensive in the next decade, the country's pledge actually only amounts to a cut of between zero and 12% off business as usual emissions in 2020 (depending on what version of the future you choose to compare it with). That is roughly a 40% increase in CO2 emissions on current levels," she writes. "The US's number, as environmentalists, frustrated by the lost decade under President Bush, are keen to point out, amounts to only a 4% cut in emissions compared with 1990 levels."
  • Tactical Win for Obama  The Daily Beast's Richard Wolffe credits President Obama with securing the agreement during his recent visit to China. "Beyond the photo ops and press statements, Obama was pushing President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for the kind of climate deals that eluded him at the G8 summit in Italy in the summer – and have eluded international negotiators for the last decade. China and India have played central roles in blocking past agreements, alongside the US, in a seemingly intractable dispute between fast-developing economies and the older, wealthier polluters."
  • Silver Lining?  The Guardian's Jonathan Watts reports that this may just be an opening bid. "But Xie Zhenhua, the country's most senior climate negotiator, hinted at the possibility of faster steps if the developed nations provided more assistance. 'It will be difficult because it is already tough for us to achieve our target," he said. "If we receive technical and financial support, we might be able to reach our target at an earlier date.'"
  • Just Not Enough  Treehugger's Daniel Kessler laments the odd strategy. "[I]ts emissions will actually increase over time because its economy is expanding so rapidly. As the world's Number 1 Polluter (but far down when it comes to per capita emissions), China's goal is not enough," he writes. "It should be noted, however, that China is making massive investments in renewable energy and increasing its standards for efficiency."
  • U.S. Should Do More  The Guardian's Isabel Hilton weighs the Chinese commitment. "It certainly counts: according to a recent calculation from the International Energy Agency, if China reaches all of its 2020 targets more than 1bn tons of carbon dioxide emissions would be avoided – 25% of what the world needs," she writes, but blasts the U.S. pledge as too weak. "From the scientific perspective, the total of all these offers falls far short of what is required to keep the temperature rise below 2C and the catastrophic changes that could trigger. There is little doubt that, had the US acted, China would have felt obliged to raise its own game."