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BEIJING/SHANGHAI - China expects to make a "breakthrough" on the establishment of a nationwide carbon emissions trading scheme (ETS) by the end of this year, the country's senior climate change official told Reuters on Tuesday.
Establishing a nationwide ETS was one of the pledges made by China ahead of the Paris climate change agreement of 2015, but implementation has been repeatedly delayed amid concerns about transparency and the quality of the nation's emissions data.
"We will strive to make a breakthrough in progress before the year-end," said Li Gao, head of the climate office at the Ministry of Ecology and Environment, speaking on the sidelines of a conference in Beijing.
The scheme was originally designed to include all major industrial sectors but its first phase will be limited to the coal-fired power industry, which is responsible for around 3 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions each year.
China's total annual carbon emissions stand at around 12.3 billion tonnes, according to the last full inventory covering the year 2014.
Beijing has already ordered firms from eight industrial sectors - oil, chemicals, construction materials, steel, nonferrous metals, papermaking, electric power and shipping - to submit their carbon emission data before the end of March, in preparation for the ETS launch.
China, the world's biggest producer of climate-warming greenhouse gases, is under pressure to deliver new and more ambitious pledges to cut emissions as part of its commitments to the Paris agreement.
It aims to bring its emissions to a peak by "around 2030", but environmental groups are calling on the government to reach the target earlier, and to make radical new commitments to cut coal consumption in its 2021-2025 five-year plan.
Senior officials, however, have been seeking to curb expectations.
Li Ganjie, Minister of Ecology and Environment, told a national meeting on Monday that the situation facing China's environment remained "grim" amid "profound and complex changes" affecting the global economy.
Economic growth in China has slowed to its slowest in nearly three decades following a punishing trade war with the United States, sparking concerns that China's campaign to cut pollution and decarbonise could be relaxed.
(Reporting by Muyu Xu and David Stanway; Editing by Shri Navaratnam and Tom Hogue)