Thursday, October 23, 2014

China's Coal Use Falls for First Time This Century, Analysis Suggests

A worker unloads coal at a storage site along a railway station in Shenyang, Liaoning province. China’s booming coal use in the last decade has contributed to rising carbon emissions.  (Credit: Sheng Li/Reuters) Click to enlarge.
The amount of coal being burned by China has fallen for the first time this century, according to an analysis of official statistics.

China’s booming coal in the last decade has been the major contributor to the fast-rising carbon emissions that drive climate change, making the first fall a significant moment.

The amount of coal burned in the first three-quarters of 2014 was 1-2% lower than a year earlier, according to Greenpeace energy analysts in China.  The drop contrasts sharply with the 5-10% annual growth rates seen since the early years of the century. 

“The significance is that if the coal consumption growth we have seen in China in the last 10 years went on, we would lose any hope of bringing climate change under control,” said Lauri Myllyvirta at Greenpeace East Asia.  “The turnaround now gives a window of opportunity.”

Such a turnaround would potentially have a large impact on the biggest coal exporting countries such as Indonesia and Australia, which have profited from China’s demand for the fuel.

At the UN climate change summit in New York in September, China said it would start to reduce the nation’s huge carbon emissions “as early as possible”.

Myllyvirta warned that year-to-year fluctuations in energy use and industrial prediction could see coal burning grow again in future.  “It may not be the peak yet, but it is a sign that China is moving away from coal.”  Climate scientists say that global carbon emissions need to peak by 2020 and rapidly decline to avoid dangerous climate change.

Myllyvirta said the greatest significance of the current drop in coal use was that economic growth had continued at 7.4% at the same time, although that is a lower rate than in recent years.  “The Chinese economy is divorcing coal,” he said.  By contrast, the tripling of the Chinese economy since 2002 was accompanied by a doubling of coal use.

Official Chinese data has been unreliable in the past but Myllyvirta said cross-checking the current data for industrial production with energy consumption showed a consistent picture.

China's Coal Use Falls for First Time This Century, Analysis Suggests

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