Energy and Climate Report provides current, thorough coverage of clean energy, efficiency, and climate change legislation, regulation, policy, legal developments, and trends in the U.S. and...
By Stephen Lee
Sept. 8 — Global coal production and consumption—driven mainly by China—rose sharply during the past decade, more than offsetting significant cuts in the U.S.
The trend underscores the significance of the Sept. 3 agreement between President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping that both countries will abide by the Paris Agreement on climate change.
Between 2005 and 2015, coal consumption in the U.S. fell by 178.2 million tons of oil equivalent (the equivalent amount of oil that would produce the same quantity of energy)—a 31 percent drop, according to the 2016 BP Statistical Review of World Energy.
But those cuts were more than offset by China’s increased consumption of 602.2 million tons of coal during the same period—a 45.7 percent hike.
Many climate change skeptics, such as Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), have questioned whether China will really decrease its coal consumption, and whether U.S. coal production and consumption cuts will make a difference globally, considering spiking coal use overseas.
China now accounts for more than half of global coal consumption. Propelled largely by Chinese growth, the top 20 coal-using nations burned 23 percent more coal in 2015 than they did in 2005.
India’s consumption grew by 195.9 million tons, or 92.7 percent, during the 2005–2015 period. Indonesia’s use rose by 55.9 million tons, a 229.1 percent increase.
The same pattern emerged on the production side.
U.S. coal production fell by 125 million tons during the past 10 years, a 21.5 percent drop. Domestic production now stands at 455.2 million tons annually.
But during that same period, China boosted its production by 585.3 million tons (47.1 percent), for a total of 1.83 billion. Indonesia’s production rose by 147.2 million (156.8 percent).
Those two nations, along with growing economies like India and Russia, sparked a 26.6 percent hike among the world’s 17 biggest coal producers.
Despite the statistics, climate advocates said they are reassured by research suggesting that both China’s coal production and use have peaked and are starting to trend downward.
“They’re already making a significant change off of a big growth curve,” David Doniger, director of the Natural Resource Defense Council’s climate and clean air program, told Bloomberg BNA. “If you’re on a roller coaster and you go up and up, there comes a period when you’re at the top before you go down. That’s where they are. They have a heck of a lot of work to do to transition to cleaner energy, but it seems to be a deliberate policy objective of theirs.”
Indeed, the data show that Chinese consumption essentially has held flat since 2012 and production has fallen very slightly since 2011.
“For a very long time, the build-out of the coal infrastructure in China was staggering,” John Coequyt, global climate policy director at the Sierra Club, told Bloomberg BNA. “What’s happened over the last few years is that’s plateaued for a host of reasons, starting with climate change, but probably more acutely because of their pollution problems that are really challenging the economic growth of China.”
Doniger also said he was optimistic about the way Chinese political leaders are assessing the realities of climate change.
“They don’t have an entire party that is denying the problem,” he said. “They hear from their scientists that they have terrific problems with sea-level rises and storms threatening their southeastern urban coastline, for example, and that they need action worldwide in order to prevent lots of bad things happening to China. So Chinese leadership seems to be working on this.”
Still, China has a long way to go before its coal trend lines resemble those of the U.S., according to Coequyt.
“We in the U.S. have about one-third of our coal plants either retired or scheduled for retirement,” he said. “But there’s still a lot of coal left in the U.S., and a lot more left in China. There are still countries looking to build more coal plants. We are a long ways away from the point at which global coal use is no longer the top climate change problem.”
Meanwhile, Indian coal consumption remains a vexing problem for climate activists, according to Doniger. From 2005 to 2015, India nearly doubled its coal use, soaring from 211.3 million tons to 407.2.
“The Indian economy is growing fast and is behind the Chinese,” Doniger said. “There’s some maturation in China that hasn’t occurred yet in India. They’re still on the upswing in their energy consumption. We are doing a lot with them there, they’re doing a lot on their own, to rapidly increase renewables. But we’re not seeing the peak yet.”
Llewellyn Hinkes-Jones contributed to this story
Copyright © 2016 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
All Bloomberg BNA treatises are available on standing order, which ensures you will always receive the most current edition of the book or supplement of the title you have ordered from Bloomberg BNA’s book division. As soon as a new supplement or edition is published (usually annually) for a title you’ve previously purchased and requested to be placed on standing order, we’ll ship it to you to review for 30 days without any obligation. During this period, you can either (a) honor the invoice and receive a 5% discount (in addition to any other discounts you may qualify for) off the then-current price of the update, plus shipping and handling or (b) return the book(s), in which case, your invoice will be cancelled upon receipt of the book(s). Call us for a prepaid UPS label for your return. It’s as simple and easy as that. Most importantly, standing orders mean you will never have to worry about the timeliness of the information you’re relying on. And, you may discontinue standing orders at any time by contacting us at 1.800.960.1220 or by sending an email to email@example.com.
Put me on standing order at a 5% discount off list price of all future updates, in addition to any other discounts I may quality for. (Returnable within 30 days.)
Notify me when updates are available (No standing order will be created).
This Bloomberg BNA report is available on standing order, which ensures you will all receive the latest edition. This report is updated annually and we will send you the latest edition once it has been published. By signing up for standing order you will never have to worry about the timeliness of the information you need. And, you may discontinue standing orders at any time by contacting us at 1.800.372.1033, option 5, or by sending us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Put me on standing order
Notify me when new releases are available (no standing order will be created)