A Deeper Look at China, Coal and CO2

On the New York Times’ Dot Earth blog, Andrew C. Revkin reads the Chinese government’s new white paper on carbon emissions and continues an ongoing discussion with experts in the field on the role of Australia and other coal exporters in cutting emissions when their coal is burned elsewhere, like in China:

Given that coal use by China (and the sources of that coal) has to be at the center of any serious discussion of climate progress, it’s worth reviewing some rich new contributions to the discussion I initiated on the ethical, economic and climatic issues that arise when coal flows from rich countries to fast-growing giants like China. The case in point here is China burning  Australian coal to fuel its power plants and steel mills.

Roger Jones, professorial research fellow at the Center for Strategic Economic Studies of Victoria University followed up with a must-read blog post examining the dilemmas. He helpfully reminds readers that decarbonization of a vast and growing global energy system is a marathon, not a sprint, and one for which the course and rules are still being worked out.

Revkin also includes a response from Carl Pope, outgoing President of the Sierra Club, to the original discussion:

While there is a lot of coal geologically, and a fair amount of coal close enough to either ports or load-centers so that it is cheap at the power plant, there is not enough of this accessible, cheap coal to meet growing demand in Asia. Two factors make much of India’s and China’s coal expensive or inaccessible; it takes a lot of water, which is in short supply, to extract and burn the coal at mine-mouth, and it takes a lot of diesel fuel, increasingly expensive, to train/truck/ship it to coastal power plants and load centers….

[I]n all of the importing countries, the decisions about how many coal plants to build are essentially controlled by national planing ministries, not markets or individual companies. India, China and Vietnam thus have a choice. They can build more coal plants, driving up their prices by competing with themselves; or they can flood their electricity markets with the maximum possible volume of non-coal power, enabling their existing fleet to operate at much lower costs and weakening the price power of coal exporters.

See also Revkin’s original post on the topic, “Can the U.S. and Australia Slake China’s Coal Thirst and Still Claim CO2 Progress?” Both his posts include abundant related links.

The full text of the White Paper is also available; see also a previous CDT post on its release.

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