Air Quality China's coal use and fossil fuel emissions 2004-2014 (

Published on March 13th, 2015 | by Sandy Dechert


China Coal Consumption & CO2 Emissions Drop In 2014

March 13th, 2015 by  

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.

China's coal use and fossil fuel emissions 2004-2014 (

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.

China annual CO2 emissions to 2015 (Peters, from twitter)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.)

Related: China’s Coal Consumption Has Finally Decreased

Check out our new 93-page EV report, based on over 2,000 surveys collected from EV drivers in 49 of 50 US states, 26 European countries, and 9 Canadian provinces.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

About the Author

covers environmental, health, renewable and conventional energy, and climate change news. She's currently on the climate beat for Important Media, having attended last year's COP20 in Lima Peru. Sandy has also worked for groundbreaking environmental consultants and a Fortune 100 health care firm. She writes for several weblogs and attributes her modest success to an "indelible habit of poking around to satisfy my own curiosity."

  • Bob_Wallace

    Here’s some data for China in 2014.

    Very rough summary.

    Electricity consumption up. Hydro up, thermal and wind down.

  • Bob_Wallace

    “Solar, wind and other renewables are making such a big difference in greenhouse gas emissions worldwide that global emissions from the energy sector flatlined during a time of economic growth for the first time in 40 years.

    The International Energy Agency announced Friday that energy-related CO2 emissions last year were unchanged from the year before, totaling 32.3 billion metric tons of CO2 in both 2013 and 2014. It shows that efforts to reduce emissions to combat climate change may be more effective than previously thought.

    “This is both a very welcome surprise and a significant one,” IEA Chief Economist and incoming IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol said in a statement. “It provides much-needed momentum to negotiators preparing to forge a global climate deal in Paris in December. For the first time, greenhouse gas emissions are decoupling from economic growth.”

    Following an announcement earlier this week that China’s CO2 emissions fell 2 percent in 2014, the IEA is crediting 2014’s progress to China using more solar, wind and hydropower while burning less coal. Western Europe’s focus on sustainable growth, energy efficiency and renewables has shown that emissions from energy consumption can fall even as economies grow globally, according to the IEA.

    Global CO2 emissions stalled or fell in the early 1980s, 1992 and 2009, each time correlating with a faltering global economy. In 2014, the economy grew 3 percent worldwide.

    In the U.S., energy-related CO2 emissions fell during seven of the past 23 years, most notably during the recession of 2009, U.S. Energy Information Administration data show. Emissions in 2013 — the most recent year for which U.S. data is available —were higher than they were in the previous year, but 10 percent lower than they were in 2005.

    At the same time, the carbon intensity of the U.S. economy — CO2 emissions per dollar of GDP — has been trending downward over the past 25 years, according to the administration.”

    There is a Easter Bunny….

  • Alex

    Please, please stop quoting the statistic that China has the world’s largest installed capacity of wind and solar. It is an utterly meaningless statistic. Actually, the U.S. PRODUCES more wind and solar energy than China. This is because the technology is better, the grid is better, and the market incentives are better. Just because China has a ton of crappy Goldwind and Sinovel turbines in the ground does not make it the world leader in renewable energy usage!!

    • Bob_Wallace

      It looks like China produced about 150 TWh of electricity with wind turbines in 2014. (Graph below)

      In 2014 the US generated 181,791 million kWh, 181.8 TWh of electricity with wind turbines.

      I don’t have numbers for Chinese solar generation. The US generated 18 TWh.

      Installed capacity is not meaningless, but amount of electricity generated is a better metric.

      • Alex

        Agreed. It’s frustrating to see China grab all the headlines on renewable energy with statistics that don’t mean much and everyone Oooo and Awwws and then scolds the US for how much it is “lagging” (one of the media’s favorite words).

        The reality is that China uses these headlines as cover-fire for its wider mercantilist ambitions of building up its own (yet still shitty) turbine and panel manufacturing industries. Just look at environmentalists in the US – they want the U.S. government to drop its trade case against Chinese panel producers because they think climate change is more important – screw fairness, right? With statistics like these splashed across headlines the world over, it also gets to win over an ignorant public opinion and claim it’s doing more than it actually is in climate talks, thus giving itself an economic advantage. “I shouldn’t have to pledge to super strict emissions targets, after all, look at all the things I’m doing, we have the most wind and solar farms in the world!”

        • Bob_Wallace

          There’s great value in publicizing the growth of wind and solar in China. It’s useful against those who argue that the US should keep using fossil fuels because China will surely sink the climate.

          It’s encouraging for the rest of us who are worried about the continued growth of CO2 emissions.

          And it sets an example for other countries, especially in Asia. If China, an incredibly successful country, is moving to renewables then others are likely to follow.

          • Alex

            Agreed. But quoting installed capacity allows China to unjustly inflate their achievements. I bet 90% of the readers of CleanTechnica, GTM, etc think that China is the global leader in renewable energy, but it’s not, the U.S. is. That should be recognized, notwithstanding the smog and mirrors tactics employed by Zhongnanhai.

          • Bob_Wallace


            Oh, please. Not more of that foolishness. This is a US blog. Communicate with your audience.

            BTW, I don’t see it as a race between any assortment of countries. We’re all racing against climate change. If one country gets a bit too much credit from time to time is that really an issue? This isn’t a soccer game.

          • Alex

            Strange reaction. Zhongnanhai is the same as saying “The White House” or “The Kremlin”.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Most Americans wouldn’t have a clue. Kremlin is widely used to refer to the Russian government. Beijing is the common term used for the Chinese government.

            I think I’m better traveled that 90% of other Americans, have been to China, and I had no idea what it meant.

            This would be like me going on a Chinese site and talking about “under the Dome”.

          • jeffhre

            What dome? Is that a bald joke? Baldies in the Beltway?

          • Bob_Wallace

            Why, the Capitol Dome. ;o)

            Perhaps I should have used “east end of the National Mall”…..

          • Ronald Brakels

            A suggestion: Put the English translation after Zhongnanhai in brackets. Then once everyone knows what it means, like the word siesta, you can drop the translation.

          • Bob_Wallace

            I went to the TripAdvisor forum which is one of the most active meeting places for travelers.

            I did get a few (very few) for Zhongnanhai. Including the info that there are cigarettes with that brand. Apparently the company made that brand for Chairman Mao.

            Ten short threads since 2006.

            A ThornTree search turned up two comments.

            Perhaps there are other communities where that word is in common use.

          • Bob_Wallace

            (You edited your spelling mistake and I had to rewrite my comment. ;o)

          • Ronald Brakels


          • Bob_Wallace

            No you’re not….


          • Ronald Brakels


          • Alex

            haha ok. Why would you go to TripAdvisor to search for Zhongnanhai? It’s a walled-off compound where the leadership resides and all decision making happens. It’s not open to the public. This is China we’re talking about after all.

          • Bob_Wallace

            To see how commonly the word is used.

            I read political news every day. I do not remember seeing Chinese governmental decisions described using that word. “Beijing” is the common shortcut.

          • Alex

            lol from the Wikipedia page after doing a .2 second search on “Zhongnanhai”: “The term Zhongnanhai is closely linked with the central government and senior Communist Party officials. It is often used as ametonym for the Chinese leadership at large (in the same sense that the term White House frequently refers to the President of the United States and his associates). “

          • Bob_Wallace

            That’s the first place I went to find out what was going on.

            Obscure word.

            It’s not “often used” in any place I visit.

    • Steven F

      china is installing on average about 15GW of wind a year. China’s first wind farms went into operation about 10 years ago. US on the other hand has been installing wind at a slower pace forlonger. China is currently very close to passing the US in termas of TWH produced.

      • Alex

        According to AWEA from Nov 2014, China has 50% greater installed capacity but produces 20% less wind energy than the US. Again, it doesn’t matter how many shitty Chinese turbines you put in the ground. They don’t have a grid or a market system that can actually utilize a lot of the wind energy they produce, thus their curtailment rates are off the charts. Hell, they don’t even have deregulated electricity markets! All of their wind power additions are simply done by government fiat. The state of wind power in China is not something to envy.

  • This is good news. But there’s one thing. The 2014 numbers look like China’s projections it made previously. This may be like projection/results in stock reporting, i.e. “last quarter we projected to hit X in sales and as you can see from operations data we hit X.”

    From Greenpeace energy desk. By the way the link to China’s state website is dead. I clicked on it and suddenly two Chinamen were at my door.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Glen sent me an email with a new link. Apparently the report was moved to a different address.

      • Bob_Wallace

        The article you link is very interesting reading. I’d suggest people give it a read.

        “Recent changes in China’s energy landscape are nothing short of a revolution, with 2014 set to mark the first annual drop in China’s coal consumption and possibly CO2 emissions this century.

        China has committed to a set of ambitious targets and actions that significantly diversify the Chinese electricity sector, building energy security and curbing both coal use and CO2 emissions much more than the IEA’s forecasts and China’s own proposed coal target for 2020 would imply.”

        It seems that the Chinese government likes to set targets that are very much in reach. That certainly was their pattern as they ramped up their wind capacity, setting five year goals, meeting them early, and then setting new, more ambitious goals.

        China is now talking a 2030 CO2 peak. I’d bet on sooner. 2014 may not be the peak but it could be the about the top of the curve.

        • JamesWimberley

          A prediction I’ve been making for some months is that China will tighten up its goals for the Paris climate conference. It no longer needs the fat safety margin provided by the 2030 emissions peak it promised in the deal with the US. A peak by 2020 would be quite safe. A peak by yesterday would very probably be realistic, but the Chinese leadership are cautious men.

  • Larmion

    During China’s boom years, local authorities routinely invented GDP growth figures in order to better match their targets set by central government (both when actual growth was too high or too low). A toothless and dare I say incompetent statistical authority accepted those figures, resulting in impressive but meaningless numbers.

    An entire industry developed around the estimation of more accurate growth figures based on parameters that could be measured accurately (imports of various resources for example). Despite being based on limited information, such estimates were found to adhere much more closely to empirical observation and are hence used by almost all magazines, economics textbooks and so on.

    Which brings me to my gripe with this article: now that the Chinese government is placing more emphasis on environmental criteria in its annual targets, can we really assume those data aren’t being fiddled too?

    I’m perfectly willing to accept coal consumption is falling. Imports have declined, and those can be cross-matched against statistics in exporting countries. The Chinese coal mining industry has some severely loss-making enterprises and the government is cracking down on poorly performing SOE’s.

    However, car sales are still soaring to record highs. Construction, a huge source of emissions through cement, glass and steelmaking, is doing extremely well. Natural gas is increasing, though from a very low base.

    As such, you’ll forgive me for wanting better proof than given here. I’m not saying the article is wrong, let alone that you’re consciously lying. However, any statistical claims that depend in part on data collected by China’s government have a long tradition of being off by a huge margin.

    • Dan Hue

      I believe the second graph’s caption is misleading. It says CO2 emissions from fossil fuels (implying all of them), but it seems to exactly match those of coal alone (per the first graph). It’s pretty clear just eyeballing the 2 graphs.

    • JamesWimberley

      “Construction, a huge source of emissions through cement, glass and steelmaking,..”

      This chart, by Lauri Myllyvirta of Greenpeace Asia, previously reproduced here (link), indicates that the growth rates of all three are declining. It has reached zero for pig iron (the intermediate stage in making new steel from ore). These are numbers in tonnes, and much harder to fiddle.

      A certain scepticism about China’s official statistics is in order. But it isn’t a centrally planned economy like Soviet Russia, where statistics were routinely faked by managers to keep their bonuses: even the CIA was taken in. Chinese managers have a market constraint. When you have multiple lines of evidence about the coal peak – even unpaid wages in some coal mines – it’s credible.

      • Larmion

        A slow growth rate starting from a high base (as we now see in China) still results in a large absolute increase in total carbon emissions.

        • Bob_Wallace

          Yes, but the point is growth seems to be slowing. That is the condition needed before growth stops. And then it becomes possible to see emission drops.

          Put your finger over the blue bar in the second graph and look at the slowing that has happened. If Peter’s calculations are off some it’s unlikely they are off to the extent that emission growth returned to the 7.5+% levels of a few years back.

      • Bob_Wallace

        Let me see if I can put up a larger version of that graph…

    • Big Bad Dalek

      Except according to the IEA carbon dioxide emissions for the whole world in 2014 remained the same as in 2013. I find this improbable if China’s carbon dioxide emissions continued to increase, since it is the biggest emitter.

      • Kevin McKinney

        China’s still only around a quarter of total emissions, so there’s a lot of room for the other 3/4 to swamp out smallish changes.

Back to Top ↑