SHANGHAI (Reuters) - China met its 2020 carbon intensity target three years ahead of schedule last year, the official Xinhua news agency reported on Tuesday, citing the country's top climate official Xie Zhenhua.
China, the world's biggest energy consumer, cut its 2005 carbon intensity level, or the amount of climate-warming carbon dioxide it produces per unit of economic growth, by 46 percent in 2017, Xie told a forum in Shanghai on Tuesday.
Carbon intensity fell 5.1 percent in 2017 compared to the previous year, Xinhua said, suggesting that China's war on pollution also helped reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
China originally promised to cut its 2005 carbon intensity by 40 percent to 45 percent. The pledge, first made in 2009, was included in the country's commitments to the international community ahead of negotiations for a new global climate pact in Paris in 2015.
However, China struggled to honor another promise to establish a nationwide emissions cap and trade system by 2017, with the scheme delayed by technical problems, including the reliability of emissions data. The country eventually settled for a scaled-back scheme involving only the power sector, which was launched in December last year.
In his speech, Xie said the national market, though only at an embryonic stage, already covers about 1,700 power firms with total carbon dioxide emissions in excess of 3 billion tonnes, making it the world's biggest. He said China would continue to work to expand coverage to other industries.
But the issue has been complicated by the decision, made at this year's full session of parliament, to transfer responsibility for climate change and carbon emissions to an expanded Ministry of Ecology and Environment. It was previously under the remit of the state planning agency, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC).
Xie was formerly vice-chairman of the NDRC and is now a special envoy with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
"It is a daunting task to launch China's national carbon trading market," said Peter Corne, managing partner at the legal firm Dorsey & Whitney in Shanghai, who follows China's environmental policies.
"It is questionable whether in the short term (the new ministry) can be elevated in status and power to the extent that it will be able quickly to assume the influential role that the NDRC occupied in the area of climate change," he added.
(Reporting by David Stanway; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)