China's coal actions help stall CO2 emissions

Updated: 2015-03-20 07:37

(China Daily Europe)

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Nation produced more electricity from renewable sources and burned less coal in 2014

The International Energy Agency in Paris recently said global carbon dioxide emissions stalled last year and that China's drop in coal consumption partly contributed to the positive trend of curbing global greenhouse gas emissions.

Analysts say the slowdown in carbon emissions last year could inject new momentum to global efforts to reach a climate deal to balance the world's greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, a mission the international community will attempt to reach in Paris at the end of the year.

According to a recent IEA report, global carbon dioxide emissions remained at 32.3 billion metric tons last year, unchanged from 2013 levels. Preliminary IEA data suggest that efforts to mitigate climate change may be having a more pronounced effect on emissions than had previously been thought.

Fatih Birol, in line to be the next IEA executive director after Maria van der Hoeven completes her term on Aug 31, says: "This gives me even more hope that humankind will be able to work together to combat climate change, the most important threat facing us today."

This marks the first time in 40 years that the growth in CO2 emissions remained unchanged during a period of economic growth. The IEA attributes the slowdown in emissions to changing patterns of energy consumption in China and Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries.

In China, there was a greater generation of electricity from renewable sources, such as hydropower, solar and wind, and less burning of coal in 2014. In OECD economies, recent efforts to promote more sustainable growth - including greater energy efficiency and more renewable energy - are producing the desired effect of delinking economic growth from greenhouse gas emissions.

China's coal actions help stall CO2 emissions

"This is both a welcome surprise and a significant one," adds Birol. "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."

The Chinese government says China's coal production reached 3.87 billion tons in 2014, a 2.5 percent year-on-year decrease. Last year, the country used 3.51 billion tons of coal, down from 3.61 billion tons in 2013.

President Xi Jinping announced late last year that the nation would peak its carbon emissions by 2030, the Chinese government's first attempt at such a goal after taking a number of moves to improve its energy intensity.

But China still uses a great deal of energy. According to official statistics, China's energy consumption per unit of GDP is 1.8 times the world average, 2.3 times more than the US' and 3.8 times more than Japan's. These figures are evidence that the Chinese government must take greater measures to save energy, tackle climate change and control emissions.

Yet steps taken show the ambitiousness of the central government's energy policy, especially its plans to derive 20 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2030. According to the latest official figures, non-fossil fuels supplied 11.1 percent of China's total primary energy consumption in 2014, up from 9.8 percent in 2013.

Last year, the central government vowed to drop the share of coal use in the energy mix to 64.2 percent from 65.7 percent in 2013, to reach 300 million kilowatts in total installed hydropower capacity, exceed 90 million kW in installed wind power capacity and reach 30 million kW in solar power capacity. By 2020, non-fossil fuels are expected to account for 15 percent of total primary energy consumption, according to the central government's plan.

The nation's drop in coal consumption has resulted in greater energy efficiency across a number of sectors, especially in construction materials, electricity, steel and iron industries.

But the IEA said before that global demand for coal over the next five years will continue to climb, breaking 9 billion tons by 2019.

Global coal demand growth has been slowing in recent years, and the trend continues. Coal demand will grow at an average rate of 2.1 percent per year through 2019, compared to the 2013 forecast of 2.3 percent for the five years through 2018 and the actual growth rate of 3.3 percent per year between 2010 and 2013, according to the report.

As has been the case for more than a decade, the fate of the global coal market will be determined by China, says the IEA. The world's biggest coal user, producer and importer has embarked on a campaign to diversify its energy supply and reduce its energy intensity, and the resulting increase in gas, nuclear and renewables will be staggering.

However, the IEA report shows that despite these efforts, and under normal macroeconomic circumstances, Chinese coal consumption will not peak during the five-year outlook period.

China Daily

(China Daily European Weekly 03/20/2015 page16)