This year will be critical if the central government is to deliver on commitments on energy intensity and pollution control, says renowned mainland environmentalist Ma Jun , even as it considers new targets for cutting emissions for the next five years. China pledged in 2006, as part of a five-year plan, to cut energy consumption per unit of gross domestic product by 20 per cent and two key air and water pollutants by 10 per cent before the end of this year. Officials have admitted falling short of interim targets, but insist the five-year pollution control and energy efficiency drive is on track to meet the goal. 'It remains a tough race to the finish line, with only a year to go to meet those ambitious targets,' says Ma, director of the non-government Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs. He says 2010 will probably be a defining year not only because of the significance of the ongoing campaigns, but also due to the fact that Beijing has started compiling the next five-year blueprint, which will map out key development policies and set growth targets for the period between 2011 and 2015. Ma says rolling out detailed measures to deliver on its first carbon emissions target, pledged last month, will become a critical test for the central government. The pledge was made amid mounting international pressure in the lead-up to the UN climate talks in Copenhagen. Premier Wen Jiabao promised at the climate summit that progress towards slashing carbon intensity - the amount of carbon dioxide produced per unit of gross domestic product - by 40 per cent to 45 per cent from 2005 levels by 2020 would be a mandatory target in the new five-year plan. Ma says China, the world's biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, is expected to remain in the international limelight after the disappointing failure at Copenhagen last month to cut a new global deal to tackle climate change. 'The pressure is unlikely to recede as long as China still refuses an absolute cut in carbon emissions,' he says. Although China refused mounting calls for international supervision of its self-claimed progress in combating pollution, the government looks set to take further steps to improve transparency in government-controlled environmental information, including carbon-related statistics. 'China may insist that the matter remains its own domestic affair, but the pressure has been building up both at home and abroad for more accountability and transparency in the fight against pollution as well as global warming,' Ma says. The mainland public is also expected to push the government and polluting enterprises to become more transparent and unveil key information deemed essential to protect public health, he says. Disputes over toxic chemical leaks and the siting of garbage treatment plants have sparked a spate of mass protests and even violence on the mainland in the past few years. 'People are becoming more sensitive to any health risks in their backyards and it remains a top challenge for authorities to address growing public concerns over the high environmental price of dazzling economic growth,' Ma says.