Thursday, May 28, 2015

China’s Coal Use May Have Peaked Years Ahead of Schedule

China Coal - China’s coal use (dark orange) has dropped sharply since 2013, according to analysis of government data by Greenpeace/Energydesk China.  Click to Enlarge.
China’s coal use fell by nearly 8 percent in the first four months of 2015 versus the same period in 2014, according to analysis by Greenpeace’s Energydesk team.  Given China’s aggressive commitments to slash urban air pollution levels and reverse carbon pollution trends, we may have witnessed the peak in Chinese coal consumption years ahead of schedule.  That would be another climate and clean energy game changer.

As we reported last year, the Chinese government said in November it would cap coal use by 2020.  That announcement came quickly after the breakthrough CO2 deal Chinese President Xi Jinping announced with Obama in November that “China intends to achieve the peaking of CO2 emissions around 2030 and to make best efforts to peak early.”

The italicized “language was critical and we should assume it was not issued lightly,” as Melanie Hart, director for China policy at the Center for American Progress, told me in February.  “It suggests that Chinese leaders are open to making even more ambitious climate moves if the economics allow, and this new data suggests that the economics are looking very good indeed.”
China appears to be accelerating some of its air quality and coal phase-out deadlines. Reuters recently ran a story, “Beijing promises coal-free power by 2017 to fight pollution.”

Certainly Chinese government statistics need to be viewed with caution, and, as Hart explains, “to be sure, there have been adjustments before, so we should hold off on judging whether coal has peaked until we see sustained trend.”

On the other hand, given the scrutiny China is under now, a number of analysts say it is reasonable to have higher confidence in these numbers now.  Hart notes that is particularly true of the industrial coal numbers because the Chinese “have an official plan to shut down heavy industry.”

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