By David Stanway
BEIJING (Reuters) - Any near-term regulation of China's greenhouse gas emissions would likely allow for future emissions growth, a senior government official said on Monday, discounting any suggestion of imminent carbon cuts by the biggest-emitting nation.
Sun Cuihua, deputy director of the climate change office at the National Development and Reform Commission, said it would be a simplification to suggest China would impose an absolute cap on greenhouse gas emissions from 2016.
No decision had yet been taken on a cap and the timing of such a measure was under discussion, she said. Several options were being considered and China would choose policies in accordance with its conditions and stage of development.
"Our understanding of the word 'cap' is different from developed countries," Sun told a conference.
An emission cap, whether imposed economy-wide or only on enterprises covered by a national carbon market, could be adjusted incrementally to allow for China's status as a developing country with growing energy consumption, she said.
"Ours will probably be an incremental cap and we are currently researching all kinds of options," she said.
Sun's comments are likely to cool hopes in international climate negotiations that China could significantly change the base lines by announcing sooner-than-anticipated CO2 cuts.
She spoke after He Jiankun, a climate change adviser to the government, said last week China would cap its emissions when the next five-year plan enters into force in 2016.[nL3N0OK3WX]
Even though He said emissions would continue to grow until 2030, some foreign observers understood that to mean that emissions would start to decrease soon.
Experts say an emissions cap would likely be set at a level that would not impede growth, but that it would ensure emissions would not rise beyond a specific level, even with strong growth.
Xie Zhenhua, China's top climate official, said last week the country would seek to cap its emissions "as soon as possible" but that experts disagreed on when greenhouse gases would peak.[ID:nL6N0OM5B8]
Emissions have nearly quadrupled since 1990 as the coal-fueled economy has grown by double-digits almost every year. China accounts for more than a quarter of total emissions.
DEVELOPED NATIONS AWAIT MEASURES
Big emitting developed nations such as Australia, Canada, Japan and the United States are reluctant to commit to binding emission reduction targets in a global treaty unless major emerging economies, such as China and India, also take steps.
China pledged in 2009 to reduce its emissions per unit of GDP to 40-45 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, but has failed to commit to setting an overall limit on emissions.
Driven by a desire to reduce dependence on fossil fuel imports and modernize its export-oriented economy, China has launched a series of initiatives to curb the rise in emissions.
The centerpiece of policy has been a plan to launch a national carbon market later this decade. China has already set up six regional CO2 markets in regions such as Beijing, Guangdong and Shanghai.
A seventh and last pilot scheme was to begin in southwestern Chongqing this week, but Sun said the opening date had been pushed back to June 19, without giving a reason.[ID:nL4N0OQ1F6]
China's air pollution crisis has routinely put major cities under a cover of smog. Now seen as a major health threat, it has added momentum to emissions initiatives.
China has in the past year banned construction of collieries in key regions, ordered the closure of thousands of inefficient factories and introduced stricter fuel standards for vehicles.
(Additional reportint by Kathy Chen; Writing by Stian Reklev; Editing by Ron Popeski)