Part 1 looked at the “Rise of the Green Dragon?“ Yet, even as China aggressively pursues world leadership in key clean technologies like solar and wind, it has also announced plans to keep expanding coal use at a pace so rapacious it would single-handedly finish off the climate no matter what we and the other rich countries do.  And China’s rapidly growing emissions remains a major issue for many members of Congress who support domestic climate action (see “Does a serious bill need action from China?“) and a major talking point for those who don’t (see “The U.S.-China Suicide Pact on Climate“).

That is why multiple stories about the possibility of serious action from the world’s biggest carbon polluter are so encouraging.  For instance, last Friday, Reuters reported:

Chinese state thinktank researchers will soon issue preliminary proposals for a carbon tax that may one day become part of the government’s efforts to tame growing greenhouse gas emissions, experts told local media.

Su Ming, deputy director of an institute under China’s Ministry of Finance, said the research on a carbon tax had been requested by that ministry and the Ministry of Environmental Protection and the proposal may be published “within a month,” the National Business Daily reported on Thursday….

“At a time when calls for the globe to control emissions of carbon dioxide are growing louder … promotion of environmental taxes is much needed,” Su said, according to the paper.

And last month, the UK’s Guardian reported this remarkable story:

The Chinese government is for the first time considering setting targets for carbon emissions, a significant development that could help negotiations on a Kyoto successor treaty at Copenhagen later this year, the Guardian has learned.

Su Wei, a leading figure in China’s climate change negotiating team, said that officials were considering introducing a national target that would limit emissions relative to economic growth in the country’s next five-year plan from 2011….

Last month, the Chinese Academy of Science reported that the country’s carbon dioxide emissions relative to GDP should be reduced by 50% by 2020, and that total CO2 emissions should peak between 2030 and 2040 if the country introduced more stringent energy-saving policies and received more financial support and technology from overseas.

Assuming we adopt something close to the Waxman-Markey targets — and that the rest of the rich nations of the world also adopt strong targets for 2030 and 2050 — then China’s intensity targets are not enough to get the world on a path to stabilize at 350 to 450 ppm.  That would require Chinese emissions peaking around 2020 to 2025.

But the mere fact that serious intensity targets and a carbon tax are being considered publicly is a huge deal coming from a country that as recently as a few years ago was strongly dismissing the notion in public and private that it might restrict emissions in any respect whatsoever.

“It would be a significant step for China to set a target that directly links carbon emissions to economic growth for the first time,” said Yang Ailun of Greenpeace.

“This is a green shoot of pragmatism that should be nurtured,” said one European diplomat.

In Part 3, I’ll look at an even more ambitious carbon target coming from China.