New data suggest that China, the world’s #1 CO2 emitter, has succeeded in decoupling coal use from economic output since its coal consumption growth began slowing down in 2012. Data recently released by the National Bureau of Statistics of China indicate that China coal consumption fell by 2.9% in 2014.
Also during 2014, China’s CO2 emissions from fossil fuels fell by 0.7%. This is the first time on record that the country’s emissions have fallen while total energy consumption grew. The graph below, prepared by Glen Peters of CICERO, breaks down the emissions numbers from 1990 by source.
Since China burns half of the world’s coal and has caused more than half of total CO2 growth globally for the past decade, the reversal in coal use may represent progress in slowing climate change. It seems to indicate that China coal use may have already entered its peaking period. Greenpeace’s EnergyDesk suggests that as well as reflecting ambitious coal reduction targets and new measures against air pollution, the drop has resulted from a record increase in low-carbon power capacity, better than usual conditions for hydropower, slower growth in heavy industry, improvements in efficiency, and greater use of natural gas.
The nation has also engaged absolute caps for coal consumption in the Yangtze River Delta and the Pearl River Delta. In total, the 8 Chinese provinces with such ambitious targets consume almost as much coal as India.
With full implementation of China’s 2020 targets, coal demand should begin to decline, researchers say. Water impacts and economic viability of gasification both matter in these calculations. As reported at this year’s International Renewable Energy Agency assembly in Abu Dhabi, China has set new global records for wind and solar installations, with installed grid-connected solar power generation capacity up 67% and wind power generation capacity up by 25.6%. Libo Wu of the Global Carbon Project’s Scientific Steering Committee says that renewables have not reached price-competitiveness there yet, however.
(Tip of the hat to Bob Wallace.)