Even as China continues to reject accepting a time-frame for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, a report released on Tuesday by a government panel called for the country to set a 2030 deadline for its emissions to peak.

This is the first time a government body has hinted at a possible time-frame for reducing emissions. With only four months to go before the climate change summit in Copenhagen begins, the question of whether China will agree to a near-term cap in its emissions remains crucial to a deal being struck.

China, like India, has so far refused to set a timetable for emissions reductions in the near-term, arguing that development goals were a priority and that developed countries like the U.S. had themselves not done enough. But Western countries say as the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, China will have to accept emission cuts if global reduction targets are to be met. The “2050 China Energy and Carbon Dioxide Emissions” report released by a government panel on Tuesday for the first time envisaged a scenario where the emissions could fall beyond 2030. The report said with significant investment in renewable energy, China’s emissions growth “could slow by 2020 and peak by 2030”.

The report called for a massive annual 1 trillion Yuan investment in developing the low-carbon energy sector until 2050. “The money would be mainly used to introduce technologies that would raise the energy efficiency of end-users in industry, construction and transportation,” Bai Quan, a member of the government panel, told the State-run China Daily newspaper. China is the world’s biggest emitter of carbon dioxide. Its emissions are four times as much as India’s, and account for 20 per cent of global emissions. Even a 2030 peak in emissions, analysts say, might barely be enough for global emissions reduction targets to be met.

And it remains to be seen if the Chinese government will accept the panel’s suggestions. A 2030 peak in emissions was only one of three possible scenarios envisaged by the report; this was the best-case outcome of an “Enhanced Low Carbon” approach to development which would require heavy investments in improving energy efficiency. The worst outcome would see a doubling of emissions by 2050 if China continued its pattern of growth.

Opinion in China is divided on how fast the government can change the current carbon-reliant pattern of development. Su Wei, Director-General of the climate change department of the National Development and Reform Commission, China’s planning body, told the Financial Times last week that emissions would only start falling by 2050. The government has announced an ambitious target of acquiring one-fifth of its energy requirements from renewable energy by 2020. But experts say even if this target is met, carbon dioxide emissions are likely to rise beyond 2030.

Tuesday’s report was the first government-sanctioned study into how China could reduce emissions without compromising its growth.

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