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 http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2014/11/19/3593567/china-climate-target-peak-coal-2020/ #climate
- 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.
- It is the beginning of the end for coal in China and around the world. The ‘conventional wisdom’ that said China couldn’t kick its coal habit is quickly proving to be false. China recently launched eight regional carbon markets, and now the country has vowed to cap coal use by 2020. By that year, the nation’s capital— Beijing—will also institute its own city-wide ban on coal use. Meanwhile, China is adding renewable capacity at an unprecedented pace. As China shifts away from coal, pressure on the coal industry in the US, Europe and Asia continues to grow because of the health, safety, and climate concerns associated with the fuel, just as renewable energy sources are poised to become cost competitive with dirty fossil fuels.
- China’s announcements over the last two weeks are adding to the growing momentum for a global climate change agreement. With hundreds of thousands of people worldwide calling for climate action, businesses and investors shifting billions into clean energy solutions, the Green Climate Fund nearing USD 10 billion, and the next round of UN climate talks fast approaching, public pressure and political will for an international climate deal has never been higher—and Chinese inaction can no longer serve as an excuse for other countries to dodge their responsibilities.
- 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.
- China to place limit on coal use in 2020 (New York Times)
- China issues energy action plan to tackle smog by using less coal (South China Morning Post)
- China seeks to cap coal use at 4.2 billion tonnes by 2020 (The Economic Times)
- China to cap coal use by 2020 to meet game-changing climate, air pollution targets (ThinkProgress)
- China’s energy plan reduces reliance on coal (ABC News)
- President Obama’s climate agreement already paying off, as China announces cap on coal use by 2020 (Daily Kos)
- China to limit annual coal and energy use by 2020 (Shanghai Daily)
- China targets coal in new energy plan (The Hill)
- China pledges to slash coal use (Climate Central)
- China’s energy plan reduces reliance on coal (AP)
- China aims to cap coal use by 2020 (The Australian)
Reports, Studies & Useful Links
- Report: A Review of China’s Climate Policies and Actions in 2013 (Greenovation Hub)
- Report: The end of China’s coal boom: 6 facts you should know (Greenpeace)
- Report: China’s future generation: Assessing the maximum potential for renewable power sources in China to 2050 (WWF)
- Report: The Great Coal Cap: China’s energy policies and the financial implications for thermal coal (Carbon Tracker Initiative)
- Article: China aiming to install 1,300 MW of renewable energy capacity a week (Clean Technica)
- Map of China’s coal control measures (Greenpeace)
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- “I’ve heard people say a new coal plant gets built every week [in China]. That’s probably still true. But for every coal plant that’s built, a lot more solar and wind are built as well, and a lot of old coal plants are probably shutting down, the less efficient ones.” – Justin Wu, lead energy analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance
- “Opponents of climate change regulation in the US have long used China’s emissions as an excuse for inaction on the US side. Last week’s joint announcement is the beginning of the end for this line of argument.” – Alex L. Wang, professor of law at the University of California at Los Angeles
- RT @ClimateWorks: China sets cap on energy use, coal use to peak by 2020 http://www.shanghaidaily.com/business/energy/China-to-limit-annual-coal-and-energy-use-by-2020/shdaily.shtml #climate #UNFCCC – good sign!
- MT @bradplumer: China plans to cap coal consumption at 4.2 bn tons in 2020 — 17% higher than last year’s levels: http://nyti.ms/1r0Aki6
- RT @tcktcktck: China to cap coal use by 2020 to meet climate & air pollution targets http://bit.ly/1vsDH89
- RT @ClimateCentral: China plans to cap its coal use by 2020: http://bit.ly/1r1d3wh