By Robert Wilson
27 February 2015
(Carbon Counter) – China’s coal consumption officially fell by 2.9% last year for the first time in 14 years. Is this evidence of “peak coal” in China as some are already claiming or a temporary blip?
Let’s begin with an obvious problem. China’s coal demand officially declined 14 years ago. In other words, just prior to the biggest coal binge in human history China’s coal demand was officially flat. This sounds hard to believe. And it is.
Between 1996 and 2000, China’s coal consumption grew by only 0.3%. However, as Glen Peters has pointed out, BP has significantly revised China’s coal consumption figures between 1996 and 2000. And the same is true for China’s official statistics.
Officially China’s coal consumption declined massively in the late 1990s. However, this was only in the original statistical estimates. New data resulted in massive revisions to those early estimates. And this is clearly a long term problem. I reproduce a fascinating graph from Peters’ below [above].
Furthermore, the causes of the late 1990s “decline” in coal consumption must be borne in mind. Coal consumption almost certainly did not decline at all, but was simply under-reported (see Peters, et al., 2007). There are potentially many reasons for this. Among them is the apparent failure of China to actually close small or illegal coal mines. Mines that were officially off the books were still producing coal, even though that coal was not appearing in official statistics.
This may be happening today. China is now officially closing large numbers of small coal mines, but it is unclear how many are actually being closed.
Similarly, illegal coal mining appears to occur on a large scale. Greenpeace recently found one “14 times the size of London” in Qinghai province. However, unsurprisingly, there appears to have been no attempt to properly quantify the extent of illegal coal mining. [more]