World’s biggest emitter may have peaked dirty fuel use, analysts say, as clean energy bucks slowdown in economic growth
By Megan Darby
China’s coal fired power generation fell 2.8% in 2015 and coal mine output slid 3.5%, official statistics showed on Tuesday.
While its energy data is notoriously unreliable, those preliminary figures suggest the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitter is continuing 2014’s downward trend.
That is hugely significant, as its use of the polluting fuel is one of the main drivers of climate change worldwide.
“Coal production and consumption has entered into a turning point since 2014,” said Li Junfeng, head of the National Climate Change Strategy Research and International Cooperation Center. “Even if it bounces back in the future, it would not be big bounce. Declining is the long term trend.”
At 6.9%, China’s 2015 GDP growth was the lowest in 25 years. That slowdown would account for some dampening of coal demand.
But it did not curb enthusiasm for nuclear and renewable generation, which surged 20% over the same period. Some US$111 billion was invested in the clean energy sector, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
Meanwhile, concerns about toxic air pollution have driven a crackdown on inefficient industry.
“Great strides continue to be made in China in terms of growing clean energy investment and improving energy efficiency,” said Ben Caldecott, environmental economics expert at the University of Oxford.
It means lower profits for coal power generators in the country, as well as mining companies overseas that were counting on “seriously flawed projections” of China’s demand for imports.
China has blocked any new coal mines from opening in the next three years, but remains oversupplied from existing sites, depressing the global price.
The London-based Carbon Tracker Initiative calculates there is no room for expanded coal production if global warming is to be held to 2C – the upper limit agreed by 195 countries in Paris last month at the so-called ‘COP21’.
“China is demonstrating that it is possible for even the largest nations to rapidly shift their economies within climate and environmental limits under the right conditions,” said the think tank’s Luke Sussams.
“This should serve as a model for all developing countries attempting to grow their economies whilst remaining within the climate trajectory enshrined at COP21.”