Dog and Pony Show: An elaborate presentation orchestrated to gain approval, as for a policy or product. See also: China’s carbon dioxide emission cuts.

One day after President Obama announced he’d make a trip to the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference in December with a pledge to cut our nation’s greenhouse emissions 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020, the Chinese State Council said it would cut the country’s carbon intensity, its “carbon emissions relative to the size of its economy”, 45 percent by 2020. But here’s the kicker:

“The goal is essentially where China would get to anyway in the next decade, according to the International Energy Agency. That has prompted some energy analysts to pan the Chinese pledge as insufficient.”

Senior fellow for energy and the environment at the Council on Foreign Relations Michael Levi called the announcement disappointing, saying, “It does not move them beyond business as usual.” For those thinking that action by China would spur the United States to aggressively approach cuts of its own or pass a cap and trade bill, this isn’t quite the action they intended.

Even with a 45% reduction in carbon emissions per unit of GDP projects to their emissions being twice ours in 2020. For reference, the U.S. and Chinese levels of emissions output were about the same in 2006.

Despite heavy investments in wind and solar Heritage Research Fellow in Asia Economic Policy Derek Scissors asserts that “Diversification from coal has failed and will continue to fail. Coal now provides 70 percent of the PRC’s energy and almost 80 percent of its electricity, with both figures higher than they were a decade ago. These shares may barely shift for decades to come.”

China prefers to measure carbon emissions relative to its size of the economy mostly because it is less verifiable than a pure emissions target. Since carbon intensity is measured in relation to gross domestic product and Chinese statistics are often altered or censored, it will be easier for China to “meet” its goals.

To actually make a difference on the earth’s temperature China, India and the rest of the developing world would likely have to revert to emission output levels that are pure fantasy. But these countries have repeatedly stated that they won’t trade economic growth for emissions reductions, especially when these countries face serious environmental threats.

China’s announcement shouldn’t spur the United States to take action. The U.S. has become dramatically more energy efficient over the past few decades without sacrificing its economic growth with carbon caps. We shouldn’t start now nor should we demand other countries to do the same.