China to Simply Cap Coal Use Within 3 Years

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Here’s a completely new approach to climate policy, from the always innovative China. Set a cap – not on carbon emissions, but – simply on lumps of coal. (Well, not on lumps of coal, exactly, but on tonnes of coal.) Once you use up your limit: that’s all there is. Stop using coal.

Now that would really focus your mind on finding an alternative!

Beijing’s policy-setters at the National Energy Administration (NEA), in attempting to grow the world’s fastest growing economy sustainably, have decided on a new way to reduce carbon emissions. Set an absolute cap for coal use for the entire nation, at about 4.1 billion tonnes of standard coal.

The first year the new rule would go into effect would be 2015. This will give managers some time to research and implement alternative sources of energy. Just the sort of news we cover at sites like this!

China is expected to announce in the first half of this year the details of the plan to cap total energy consumption for 2015, including individual targets for provinces.

Each province would have a limit set for allowable tonnes of coal, and local officials would have their performance measured.

Last year China used a total of 3.48 billion tonnes of standard coal, 7 percent higher than 2010, official figures show. Taking into account China’s growth rates, the target for 2015 of no more than 4.1 billion tonnes will be a tough goal to keep down to, and will require a very ambitious reduction in energy intensity.

Previously, China had tried to curb the energy consumption per unit of GDP, or cut its “energy intensity”. When less energy is used to produce the same amount of GDP, energy intensity is said to be reduced.

Normally, developed nations do much better with more efficient use of energy, so that China reduced it at all while growing at 8 percent, is quite an accomplishment. The U.S. when it was in its growth years in the 1940s and 50s did not, only California managed to deliberately flatline its energy use since the 1970s, while growing GDP.

Making more efficient use of electricity; everything from more efficient building codes, appliance codes and waste energy harvesting can all reduce energy intensity.

China missed its goal last year, while still moving in the right direction. It had set a target to reduce energy intensity by 3.5 percent, and failed by a little bit, only reducing it 2 percent.

China produces a large share of the world’s iron and steel, cement, chemicals and is the manufacturing shop floor of the world.

Here the use of low-carbon heating methods such as solar thermal, electric heat pumps and combined-heat-and-power (or cogeneration) and waste heat harvesting and many other efficiency technologies covered at Cleantechnica can reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

China could increasingly electrify heating, road vehicles, rail and industrial processes, while shifting from fossil-fuel based power-generation sources to a mix of renewables and nuclear, as it has done, in order to reduce energy intensity.

But Western politicians have tended to discount china’s energy intensity reductions as being not hard cuts – which is nonsense, really, as it really does take very hard cuts to cut energy use while growing an economy, and especially a manufacturing-based one.

Perhaps this cap will get more respect.

The first ever hard cap on a fossil fuel could turn out to be more effective – and easier to enforce – than all the various climate policies the world has tried so far, from the “carrots” of incentives like rebates and feed in tariffs and fast lanes on freeways, to the “sticks” of renewable energy standard mandates, carbon taxes and cap and trade programs.

Kudos to China for a bold new idea.

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