China is the world’s largest energy consumer and the leading emitter of greenhouse gases. In 2013, coal accounted for 65% of China’s overall energy consumption, making it the most coal-dependent country among top energy consumers.
China accounts for almost half of global coal consumption and from 2000 to 2010 its coal use and emissions grew on average at 9% a year. In 2010 alone, China’s increase in coalfired power generation capacity equaled Germany’s existing generating capacity.
But recently adopted air quality policies and the growth of renewable energy show signs of a major change in trend. Given China’s major role in global emissions, this is of global significance. . . .
In September 2013, China’s State Council, or cabinet, released an “Airborne Pollution Prevention and Control Action Plan” in which the Chinese government recognised that tackling the air pollution crisis will require significant reductions in coal consumption. The plan was accompanied by specific coal consumption targets in provincial action plans. For the first time, the plans introduce coal consumption caps for provinces. Furthermore, many provinces are now committing to reverse the trend of rapid growth in coal use and cut their coal consumption overall in just four years. . . . If achieved, the measures will not only fundamentally shift the coal consumption trajectory of the world’s largest coal consumer, but also significantly re-shape the global CO2 emission landscape. . . .
Assuming a business-as-usual scenario where all Chinese provinces maintained 2/3 of their average rates of growth in coal consumption between 2006-2011, in line with expected slowdown in GDP growth, then the coal control measures imply reductions in coal use of 350 million tonnes by 2017 in the provinces concerned. If we assume the rate of decline was to continue between 2018 and 2020, the measures would cut 655 million tonnes of coal use from the business-as-usual scenario.
When translated into CO2 emission reductions, these reductions equal to about 700 Mt in 2017 and 1,300 Mt in 2020. (To compare, 1,300 Mt is equal to Canada’s and Australia’s total emissions combined). . . .
Implementing the existing coal control measures as planned would significantly slow down China’s CO2 emission growth. The expected reduction from business-as-usual development from the 12 regions alone (about 700 Mt by 2017 and 1,300 Mt by 2020) would bring China’s projected CO2 emissions in 2020 close to a trajectory that the International Energy Agency says would be in line with the goal of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius. To get to the trajectory altogether, which would imply peaking of global energy emissions well before 2020, other big polluters will have to deliver on their emission cuts too.
China’s annual growth in coal consumption slowed to 2.8% in 2012. While this still led to significant CO2 emissions, it represented a significant deceleration from the trend over the past decade in which the country’s use of coal grew at 9% per year.
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