Last week, President Barack Obama set a U.S. target for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to 17% below 2005 levels by 2020 and 83% by 2050, while China separately said it would reduce the intensity of its carbon dioxide emissions by 40% to 45% by 2020. The announcements come weeks before the 12-day international climate meeting at Copenhagen, Denmark, which will begin on Dec. 9.

The White House’s provisional target reflects the limit set by climate legislation passed in the U.S. House. The U.S. Senate is currently considering a bill that cuts GHG emissions to 20% below 2005 levels by 2020. The White House last week noted that the final U.S. emissions target will ultimately fall in line with climate legislation that passes both congressional houses and is approved by the president.

“In light of the President’s goal to reduce emissions 83% by 2050, the expected pathway set forth in pending legislation would entail a 30 percent reduction below 2005 levels in 2025, and a 42% reduction below 2005 levels in 2030,” White House climate czar Carol Browner told reporters at a press conference.

Obama is expected to briefly appear at the Copenhagen conference. The White House said several cabinet secretaries would speak at the conference, including Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson, Energy Secretary Steven Chu, and Ken Salazar, secretary of Interior.

Topics will range from energy efficiency investments and global commitments to renewables policy and clean energy jobs. Last week, the State Department also launched the COP-15 website (www.cop15.state.gov) to “serve as the central resource for public information about United States policy positions and U.S. Center programs at the Copenhagen negotiation.”

On Thursday, meanwhile, China’s State Council announced its carbon emission target, saying it was “voluntary action” based on its “national conditions,” and that it was a “binding goal” that would be incorporated into China’s medium- and long-term national, social, and economic development plans.

Carbon dioxide emissions intensity is defined as the amount of carbon dioxide emissions per unit of gross domestic product (GDP). China expects its GDP to at least double by 2020, which could potentially result in a doubling of carbon dioxide emissions, but the new target should hold the increase in carbon dioxide emissions to 20% or less, officials said.

On Thursday, China also announced plans to invest in the research, development, and commercialization of energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies; it plans to draw on non-fossil fuel energy sources for 15% of its energy needs by 2020.

Sources: White House, U.S. State Department, Gov.cn, EERE