Historical trajectories of economic development and coal consumption for the United Kingdom, the United States and China (data normalized for comparison; note differences in values on both axes). The x axis shows the logarithm of per-capita GDP and the y axis shows the logarithm of national coal consumption. Graphic: Qi, et al., 2016 / Nature Geoscience[Des has been skeptical of claims that China’s coal consumption has declined and/or peaked, but Des may be convinced now, largely due to the presence of Prof. Nicholas Stern on this paper.]

By Shreya Dasgupta
27 July 2016

(mongabay.com) – China is the largest consumer of coal in the world. It is also the world’s biggest emitter of carbon dioxide in the world.

But China’s coal use may have reached its peak in 2014, a new study published in Nature Geoscience suggests. In 2014, China’s coal use declined by 2.9 percent, and dropped further by 3.6 percent in 2015. The country’s gross domestic product (GDP), however, continued to grow in these years by around seven percent, researchers say.

“We argue that China’s coal consumption has indeed reached an inflection point much sooner than expected, and will decline henceforth — even though coal will remain the primary source of energy for the coming decades,” the authors write in the paper. “We suggest that China has entered the era of post-coal growth.”

China’s rapid economic growth has been fueled by coal. According to the study, coal has remained China’s predominant source of energy over the past 35 years, constituting three-fourths of the overall energy mix. But coal’s share has been falling. In 2015, coal contributed less than 65 percent of the country’s total energy mix, the authors write.

The study attributes this shift to a number of factors including the ongoing economic slow-down in China, particularly in the construction and manufacturing industries. Between 2011 and 2015, growth in these sectors sector fell by eight percent, the study says, despite these industries accounting for around 80 percent of coal combustion over the five-year period.

Strengthened policies regarding air pollution and clean energy are also contributing to China’s reduced coal use, the authors write. In fact, increased use of low-carbon sources such as solar, hydropower and wind, has resulted in a decline in China’s emissions by 1.5 percent, according to the latest data by International Energy Agency (IEA). Over the past two years, China’s carbon emissions have remained nearly flat.

This dip in China’s declining coal use may be permanent, the authors argue. This is mainly because the country is seeing a number of long-term transformations that point towards a permanent reduction in coal use, they write. [more]

China’s coal use has peaked ‘sooner than expected’

ABSTRACT: Slowing GDP growth, a structural shift away from heavy industry, and more proactive policies on air pollution and clean energy have caused China's coal use to peak. It seems that economic growth has decoupled from growth in coal consumption.

China's post-coal growth



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