China aims to cap coal as soon as 2020


The world’s largest emitter has made its second major climate announcement in just two weeks. After agreeing to peak carbon dioxide emissions by 2030, Chinese officials announced Wednesday that China aims to cap its annual coal use at 4.2 billion tons by 2020. China will also work to ensure that coal is not more than 62 percent of the country’s energy mix by that year. Experts welcomed the announcement, but said China could be even more ambitious, given recent trends in coal consumption which already point downwards.


RT @climatebrad: This is a big step in the right direction – China to cap coal use by 2020 #climate

Key Points

  • China has been a driver of the ongoing transition from dirty to clean energy for some years, but now the country is taking even more of a leadership role in shifting the global power sector. For decades, China used to rely on a rapidly growing coal fleet to power its grid, while pioneering renewables. Now, facing crippling air pollution and climate change impacts, the country has decided to cap coal by 2020, peak emissions by 2030, and generate at least 20 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2030—signaling a clear shift away from dirty coal. Experts say Chinese coal consumption in 2020 could be even lower than today’s announcement suggests, given that recent statistics already hinted at a drop in coal consumption. They also argue a tighter cap on coal would help with meeting the air quality targets the government had announced previously.
  • President Obama’s climate diplomacy is already paying big dividends. Commentators have begun to hail President Obama’s negotiations on climate change as his biggest foreign policy success, and it is easy to see why. By taking strong steps to reduce carbon pollution from power plants and vehicles at home, the White House has helped spur China into action, setting the stage for more international cooperation on climate. If the US and China can work together to halt global warming, there’s no reason for the rest of the world to delay fully phasing out fossil fuels and shifting to a 100 percent renewables future.


In 2007, China rode a coal boom to overtake the United States as the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases. China—which is currently the world’s largest consumer of energy—is extremely coal dependent. Extremely rapid industrialization in China led to a 45 percent increase in its overall energy consumption between 2008 and 2013. From 2000 to 2010, the country’s coal use and emissions grew 9 percent each year on average, and China now accounts for nearly half of the world’s coal consumption.

Because of the quantity of emissions released from China, any attempt at reining in climate change will hinge in large part on China’s willingness and ability to transition away from fossil fuel sources of energy and toward renewable power.

Over the last several years, China has shown a stronger appetite toward reducing its dependence on coal in the short-to-medium term, especially as air pollution has become an increasingly important political issue in China. In 2013, 92 percent of Chinese cities failed to meet ambient air quality standards. Coal consumption there is producing high levels of particulate matter (including PM2.5), which causes respiratory illness, heart attacks, and genetic mutations that lead to cancer. According to the World Health Organization, 7 million premature deaths annually are linked to air pollution. A separate analysis found that outdoor air pollution contributed to 1.2 million premature deaths in China in just one year.

In September 2013, China’s State Council released its long-awaited “Atmospheric Pollution Prevention Plan,” which outlines a plan to improve the air quality of the entire country by 2017, while imposing strict regulations on Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou—three of the country’s key industrial cities.

Since then, China has enacted a series of important policies that will jointly cut air pollution and slow emissions of greenhouse gases. In June 2014, China completed its roll out of seven carbon markets. At the city level, these pilots were enacted in Beijing, Tianjin, Shenzhen, Shanghai, and Chongqing. At the regional level, pilots were enacted in Hubei and Guangdong provinces. In October 2014, an eighth carbon market was launched in the industrial port city of Qingdao.

The Chinese government is expected to move forward with a national carbon market as soon as 2015.

In August 2014, China announced a new step in its “war on pollution,” with the Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau officially declaring a ban on coal power and the sale of coal in the city by the end of 2020. While it constitutes a relatively small portion in China’s annual coal use, analysts expect neighbouring provinces to follow suit.

In November 2014, US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping announced a landmark agreement to partner closely on a broad-ranging package of plans to fight climate change. The US announced it will reduce its carbon emissions 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, nearly doubling its current rate of emissions reductions. For the first time ever China has set a date – 2030 – for when it plans to peak its emissions and begin decreasing how much carbon pollution it emits. China also pledged to increase the share of non-fossil fuels in its energy mix to around 20 percent by 2030. In 2013, China produced less than 10 percent of its electricity from non-fossil fuel sources.

Much of this energy will be produced by wind turbines and solar panels. According to China’s National Plan to Cope with Climate Change (2014-2020), the country will have 200 GW of grid-connected wind capacity and 100 GW of installed solar capacity by the end of the decade.

The latest announcement by the Chinese State Council, made on November 19, 2014, commits the country to to cap annual coal consumption at 4.2 billion tons by 2020. The plan would require annual growth in energy consumption to be no more than 3.5 percent for the next six years. The official document released by the Chinese State Council said that the share of non-fossil fuels would reach 15 percent by 2020. Initial reactions have been welcomed by experts, but many say that China could be even more ambitious, given recent trends in coal consumption which already point downwards.

A very comprehensive overview of China’s climate policies and action in 2013 can be found here.



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