05/24/2013 05:31 EDT | Updated 07/24/2013 05:12 EDT

About That Chinese "Breakthrough" on Carbon Emissions...

white danger smoke from coal...

The Chinese government's announcement that it will implement carbon emission controls is being presented as a game-changer when it comes to the prospects for global climate controls. The Independentreports:

The battle against global warming has received a transformational boost after China, the world's biggest producer of carbon dioxide, proposed to set a cap on its greenhouse gas emissions for the first time. Under the proposal China, which is responsible for a quarter of the world's carbon emissions, would put a ceiling on greenhouse gas emissions from 2016, in a bid to curb what most scientists agree is the main cause of climate change. It marks a dramatic change in China's approach to climate change that experts say will make countries around the world more likely to agree to stringent cuts to their carbon emissions in a co-ordinated effort to tackle global warming.

Some people alarmed over climate change are aflutter with expectations:

"This is very exciting news," said Lord Stern, chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change at the London School of Economics.

"Such an important move should encourage all countries, and particularly the other large emitters such as the United States, to take stronger action on climate change. And it improves the prospects for a strong international treaty being agreed at the United Nations climate change summit in 2015," added Lord Stern, who, in his 2006 report for the UK government on the financial implications of climate change, produced what many regard as the world's single most influential political document on the subject.

What's intriguing is that what China's now being lauded for (imposing emission intensity targets) was what George W. Bush and Stephen Harper have been pilloried for. It will be interesting to observe how other environmental groups greet China's announcement going forward.

What China has agreed to do is lower its carbon emission intensity (the amount of carbon dioxide emitted per dollar of economic product) by 40 per cent compared to its 2005 level by 2020. In 2001, the Bush administration proposed a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emission intensity by 18 per cent by 2012. That proposal met with scorn, as reported by the BBC:

Critics of Mr. Bush's proposals say the plans are kind to big business in the United States but do little to curb fossil fuel emissions such as oil and coal, which environmentalists say cause more problems and contribute to global warming and acid rain.

"Unfortunately, the Bush administration is using Valentine's Day to give a sweetheart deal to the corporate polluters that funded his campaign," Carl Pope, executive director of the environmental agency, the Sierra Club, told Reuters news agency.

Likewise, when Stephen Harper proposed similar targets in his "Turning the Corner" plan, he was pilloried by environmental groups. Emily Murgatroyd, on the uber-green DeSmogBlog, opined that:

His hard push toward intensity targets over hard caps begs the question -- just how stupid does he think Canadians are?

(Apparently as stupid as Bush find Americans).

Intensity targets are a sexy way of saying lots and doing nothing. A nice accounting trick more than anything.

Will environmentalists be consistent in their treatment of emission intensity targets now that China has embraced them? Or will they simply forget what they've said in the past about such targets and hold China up for adulation to preserve the "China has taken a key step" rherotic that would enable global carbon controls? My guess is that we'll hear a lot of Emerson: "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines."

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