The State Council announced Thursday that China is going to reduce the intensity of carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP in 2020 by 40 to 45 percent compared with the level of 2005.
This is a "voluntary action" taken by the Chinese government "based on our own national conditions" and "is a major contribution to the global effort in tackling climate change," the State Council said.
In a meeting presided over by Premier Wen Jiabao Wednesday, the State Council reviewed a national task plan addressing climate change.
A press statement released Thursday said the index of carbon dioxide emissions cuts, announced for the first time by China, would be "a binding goal" to be incorporated into China's medium and long-term national social and economic development plans.
New measures would be formulated to audit, monitor and assess its implementation, said the statement.
Wu Changhua, the Greater China director of the Britain-headquartered non-governmental organization Climate Group, deemed it as "a significant and meaningful step" and a quick answer to President Hu Jintao's promise at the September UN climate summit in New York that China would cut emission intensity by "a notable margin" by 2020 from the 2005 level.
However, Qi Jianguo, an economic and environmental policy researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told Xinhua that the targets would put "great pressure" on China's development.
"In 2020, the country's GDP will at least double that of now, so will the emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG). But the required reduction of emissions intensity by 40 to 45 percent in 2020 compared with the level of 2005 means the emissions of GHG in 2020has to be roughly the same as emissions now," he said.
Qi, who studies links between the economy and climate change, said as the world's largest developing country China would face a great challenge.
In order to achieve the target, more efforts must be made besides strictly abiding by the principle of "energy-saving and emissions reductions," he said.
The government would devote major efforts to developing renewable and nuclear energies to ensure the consumption of non-fossil-fuel power accounted for 15 percent of the country's total primary energy consumption by 2020, said the State Council statement.
More trees would be planted and the country's forest area would increase by 40 million hectares and forest volume by 1.3 billion cubic meters from the levels of 2005.
The State Council said that as a responsible developing nation, China advocated global concerted efforts in addressing climate change "through pragmatic and effective international cooperation."
The Chinese cabinet reiterated the principled stand for implementation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Kyoto Protocol.
Both the UNFCCC principle of "common but differentiated responsibilities" and the Bali Roadmap should be observed, the State Council said.
The UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol should be carried out in a comprehensive, effective and lasting way, and emissions alleviation, adaptation, technological transfer and financial support should be coordinated in a comprehensive way to help bring about positive results for the upcoming UN Climate Change Conference in December in Copenhagen, the State Council said.
"Appropriate handling of the climate change issue is of vital interest to China's social and economic development and people's fundamental interests, as well as the welfare of all the people in the world and the world's long-term development," the State Council said in the statement.
China faced mounting pressure and difficulties in developing its national economy and improving people's living standards as the country's industrialization and urbanization accelerated, said the statement.
Given the country's huge population, prominent economic structural problems, coal-dominated energy consumption structure, and increasing demand for energy, the government needed to make strenuous efforts to realize those targets, said the statement.
The government was required to take into account both immediate and long-term interests while achieving coordinated development of its economy and the cause of environmental protection, said the statement.
Coping with climate change should be a major strategy for the national economic and social development, said the statement.
More funding would be invested into the research, development and industrialization of technologies for energy saving, and into energy efficiency, clean coal development, renewable energies, advanced nuclear energies, and carbon capture and storage.
Laws, regulations and standards would be formulated and fiscal, taxation, pricing and financial measures would be introduced to manage and monitor the implementation of those laws and regulations, said the statement.
The State Council also said China would expand cooperation with foreign countries in raising its capacity to cope with climate change and import low-carbon and environment-friendly technologies.
The State Council also advocated greater public awareness in addressing global climate change and encouraged low-carbon lifestyles and consumption.
The Kyoto Protocol, which aimed to pool world efforts to combat global warming, has been ratified by 184 parties to the UNFCCC since 1997, but it has not been ratified by the United States.
Under the Protocol, developed countries are required to set clear targets for emissions reductions The European Union, Canada, Japan and Australia, among other developed members, all set respective targets.
Developing countries such as China and India do not need to present any emissions targets.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry has announced that Premier Wen Jiabao would attend the Copenhagen climate summit next month.