China is the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter, so small decreases in its emissions seem like monumental feats when compared to other countries. According to a new analysis, in the first four months of 2015, China’s coal use fell almost 8 percent compared to the same period last year — a reduction in emissions that’s approximately equal to the total carbon dioxide emissions of the U.K. over the same period.
The analysis, published by Greenpeace and Energydesk China, reviewed data from a number of sources, including China’s industrial output, and found that China had reduced its coal output by 6.1 percent in the first four months of 2015. The research team calculated that the drop in coal use translates into a nearly 5 percent drop in domestic CO2 emissions.
Lauri Myllyvirta, an analyst who worked on the Greenpeace report, told RTCC that the report shows that China’s industrial output and thermal power generation are falling while renewable energy sources like hydro, wind, and solar are growing fast.
She said that while some question the accuracy of the data, she has “a high degree of confidence in those statistics because in the current economic situation no government has an incentive to publish falling numbers for industrial growth.”
In 2014, China cut domestic consumption of coal by 2.9 percent, the first drop in more than a decade, with coal production also falling 2.5 percent. China’s carbon emissions also fell last year for the first time in over a decade, dropping 2 percent in 2014 compared to 2013.
While China is rapidly pursuing clean energy technology — with solar growth that dwarfs any other country — and also closing hundreds of coal plants in response to domestic air pollution issues and a shifting fossil fuel landscape, the real reason for the dramatic fall in emissions is likely the country’s sluggish economy. So far in 2015, China’s economy is growing slower than the government’s desired 7 percent pace — a trajectory that puts it on course to have its weakest economic year in a quarter of a century.
But while China’s economic growth may turn around, its coal use will not. Late last year the government announced it plans to cap coal use by 2020, a necessary target to meet its global pledge of peaking greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. Reducing its use of coal, which still generates three-fourths of China’s electricity, is also a key element of China’s renewable energy target of 20 percent non-fossil fuels in “primary energy consumption by 2030.”
As the Wall Street Journal reports, all these factors are coming together in the country’s upcoming overhaul of its power industry, which will be “bad news for coal-fired plants.”
The reforms could throw coal-fired power plants “to the market lions,” which would likely precipitate the closure of countless plants that now represent a glut of coal power in the country and are reliant on tariffs for economic viability.
With China’s domestic energy picture rapidly shifting, it has also continued to engage in strong international rhetoric around climate change in the lead up to the United Nations climate talks in Paris at the end of the year. After entering into a pledge with the U.S. in late 2014 to peak emissions by 2030, this week leaders from China and India — the world’s first and third biggest greenhouse gas emitters — issued a joint statement calling climate change “one of the greatest global challenges of the 21st century.”
The countries, which depend on rapid economic growth for political stability, stopped short of any hard commitments. Rather, they focused on the responsibility of wealthy countries to aid in their efforts to reduce emissions by financing clean energy technologies and by trying harder to reduce their own emissions.
“The two sides urged the developed countries to raise their pre-2020 emission reduction targets and honor their commitment to provide $100 billion per year by 2020 to developing countries,” the joint statement said.
Despite its drop in coal use, China remains a major emitter of the greenhouse gas emissions that drive climate change. In 2013, China was responsible for nearly 30 percent of total global carbon dioxide emissions, a percentage that is rapidly rising. In 2014, for the first time, China’s per capita CO2 emissions surpassed those of the E.U., a trend made even more notable by China’s continued population growth.