China’s Coal Output Falls for First Time This Century

China’s Coal Output Falls for First Time This Century

China’s National Coal Association reports that the country’s coal production fell 2.1% in 2014, the first such decline since the turn of the century. The news follows the announcement late last year of a joint Sino-U.S. pledge to limit carbon emissions, a goal to which China’s traditional appetite for coal presents an imposing hurdle. From John McGarrity at chinadialogue:

Greater output of hydro electricity, increased energy efficiency, shutdowns of old, energy-intensive industrial plants and big additions of new renewables capacity all took their toll on coal last year, developments that are likely to be longer-term rather than temporary, says Lauri Myllyvirta, an energy analyst with Greenpeace.

[…] Analysts are sharply divided on whether a peak in coal consumption is imminent, with some taking the view that a shift in capacity from eastern to western provinces may mean that overall demand continues to increase and locks in coal demand for decades.

But tougher regulations on coal-fired power plants, curbs on coal-to-gas facilities, and increasing amounts of new renewables capacity backed by superefficient power grids are likely to decrease coal’s current 67 percent share of China’s energy mix, other observers say. [Source]

An editorial from The Guardian, noting that the topic “would once have seemed as obscure as banging on about Soviet tractor output,” welcomed the drop as “excellent news for the planet – if it’s true”:

[…] Are we witnessing a new trend, where growth decouples from coal consumption? Or is this a blip – whether produced by the heavy rains that have reportedly swelled hydroelectric generation, by passing economic vicissitudes, or simply by the running down of stocks? Or could it instead be that the craving for coal has been controlled by burning other fuels? China’s rapidly rising oil imports give credence to that thought.

Last but not least, there is the question of trust in the numbers. In an authoritarian state, it is asking a lot to expect independent statistics. In the past, whether by cock-up or conspiracy, there was a gigatonne gap between China’s national carbon accounts and those of its regions – a difference equivalent to Japan’s total emissions. [Source]


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